Overcrowding on Campus

Rude Awakening

When transfer student Amanda Straw saw her new room last week, her first thought was that it “looked like an orphanage.”

But this was no ordinary dorm room; Straw’s new living space was actually in the lounge of Hannon Hall. It was made up with five beds and two dressers, but no desks or chairs were provided.

Straw was one of 149 students assigned to guest rooms, apartments, lounges and study halls as the university ran short of on-campus housing. Fortunately, within a week of arriving, Straw was assigned to a permanent room. But, as of Aug. 31, at least 50 other students remained on the waiting list. Several said they felt frustrated and inconvenienced by the process.

“I was worried I would be in the lounge all semester,” Straw explained. She was also unhappy that MSU did not offer to reduce her room and board, even though she twice had to move into a new living space as classes began.

Straw also expressed that she received no help moving her things, and felt the whole process was fairly disorganized. “It seemed like MSU didn’t know what was going on,” she added. “They were not professional.”

At Full Capacity

University officials say that, as enrollment has swelled, a near-record number of students have requested on-campus housing. This year, 4,280 students applied, nearly 340 more than last year.

Residence officials have been aware of the potential shortage of beds since last spring. They said they have since worked to accommodate the wave in an orderly manner, notifying students as early as possible about their temporary arrangements.

But for some students, shocks still remained.

Freshman Bridger Heckman was assigned to a Hapner guest apartment with three other boys. He liked the extra space and appreciated the quiet atmosphere of the traditionally all-girls dorm.

However, he was surprised by the poor condition of the guest apartment.

“When we moved in, the fridge was covered in mold and there were cobwebs in the corners,” he explained. “It was gross, and the floor was dirty. I had to go buy supplies to clean it all up.”

Eventually, Heckman settled in and even asked to remain in the guest apartment for the rest of the semester.

“I was told that I would definitely be moved,” he said. This “irritated” him because, as he explained, ”They let you move in, finally get settled, but then class starts and they want to move you.” He was also concerned about the sudden change in roommates once he would be moved to permanent housing.

Now, Heckman has to wait for a permanent room to become available.

Solving the Problem

Although the situation is not ideal, a lot of thought and effort went into preparing the temporary housing, Dean of Students Matt Caires explained.

“They [the housing staff] have provided the students with as many accommodations and support as possible,” he said. “They are trying to be very creative, knowing very well that for a student to succeed at the college level, he or she needs a safe place to live.”

MSU Residence Life became aware of the overcrowding issue in May. Administrators began e-mailing students, offering them a $500 room and board discount to live in a triple room. Students living in a double-as-single were also contacted and asked if they would be willing to take a roommate. In addition, students living within a 30-mile radius of campus were asked if they would give up their on-campus housing and live at home.

As Caires explained, “We have a requirement that all students live on campus their freshman year. She [Chief Housing Officer Tammie Brown] is trying to be creative in waiving that requirement when it is educationally appropriate.”

The next step was to identify places for overflow students to live. The option of booking rooms in a hotel was discussed but ultimately it was decided it would be better for students to be on campus. As Tammie Brown, Chief Housing Officer for Residence Life, explained, “We want them to be here. Even if they are in a lounge for a temporary time period, we can serve them better if they are here than if they are in a hotel, between safety, security and transportation.”

Two weeks prior to move-in, all overflow students were informed of the situation via e-mail. They were also given some direction on how to prepare, and were told to reduce the amount of possessions they planned on bringing in order to make for an easier transition.

On the first official day of classes, MSU Residence Life counted the number of students that had not checked into their rooms. There were 99 “no-shows,” Brown said, opening up space for 67 overflow students to be placed in permanent housing on that day.

However, the empty spaces have been filled and the residence halls are at full occupancy, so remaining overflow students are waiting for those in permanent housing to drop out or move off campus.

Brown explained that while other schools do not provide accommodations for late applicants, “Our philosophy is that we want to accommodate the students.”

“We are up 600 students over the last three years,” she added. “When you’ve got an inventory of rooms, unless you add onto those rooms, what is your other option?”

One long-term solution to the rising enrollment — construction of a new 70-bed suite style dormitory — began two weeks ago. There is also talk of opening the top floors of Quad F, which would provide an additional 20 beds.

Brown remarked, “People have been dismayed because it is not perfect, but I think given the level of honesty and integrity and attentiveness that we gave this issue, we’ve got about a 99 percent satisfaction rate with this whole thing.”

Frustrated Students

However, Caleb Blokzyl, who was placed temporarily in the conference room of Honors Quad D, thinks the housing staff could have better anticipated the overflow.

“[MSU] could have just turned us away,” Blokzyl said, frustrated that the school continued to accept students even after residence halls were full. “They should be able to keep better track of that stuff.”

Still, Blokzyl said he found students in the Quads to be very friendly and, like Straw, is looking forward to the coming year.

“It’s a little annoying, but you can deal with it.” Blokzyl said. “ We have been able to cope.”