What Do Colleges Do When They Don’t Have Space In Residence Halls?
Most recently many colleges have announced plans to reopen in the fall. Some of these plans call for residence halls to have fewer residents. Double rooms could become singles. Triples could become doubles. Quads could become doubles, too. College administrators have not faced a pandemic like COVID-19 before. But they have faced other issues when they lacked for space in their residence halls.
Imagine you are a college administrator who has learned that their residence halls have asbestos or mold problems, and therefore not up to code. Or, on a better note, has learned that more freshmen are coming to campus than expected. How do schools react when either situation creates a housing crunch?
At St. Mary’s an outbreak of mold forced the college to temporarily close two freshman and sophomore dormitories that housed 240 students. The mold flourished because of excessive moisture that built up around ventilation pipes in the wake of the storm. The college administration took a very creative approach. Being on a riverfront, the St. Mary’s campus had enough room to dock the Sea Voyager, an out-of-service cruise ship. The ship, formerly known as the Cape May Light, originally launched in 2001. The Cape May Light played host to tours along U.S. East Coast waters; passenger fees started at around $2,500 a trip.
While the accommodations were not extravagant, the ship’s crew crew replaced linens and towels twice a week and provided laundry service. Students shared bathrooms with their roommates instead of an entire floor of co-eds.The housing crunch subsided after the residence hall reopened.
The alternative? Send students to live in hotels that were as much as 45 minutes from campus. While fairly isolated, St. Mary’s is near a state highway that serves a military base as well as military contractors. The competition from this market would have likely forced students to live further from campus. Instead, the displaced were able to live close by and participate in college’s residence life programs. In addition, they got a novelty and a memory from their school.
The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) has had more time to solve their problem. In 2013 the college closed Cromwell Hall, a residence hall that has housed freshmen honor’s students, so that repairs can be to the plumbing system, the roof, some mechanical systems, and furniture. New bathroom fixtures will also be installed and the building will be painted. TCNJ relocated the underclassmen to other dorms and move upperclassmen off campus.
The college also accepted bids from hotel operators who have properties within a 20 minute commute from campus. Students who chose to live in the hotels will receive maid service once a week as well as shuttle bus services to and from campus. One might expect the hotel arrangement to be more attractive to students who have cars, and can drive to the campus, or elsewhere during evenings and weekends.
It is not unusual for colleges to use hotels as a temporary measure to avert a housing crunch. But one lesson from the experience is that freshmen deserve priority when it comes to living on or close to campus. They are least likely to know the campus community. The best way for them to learn is to live close to where they attend class, study and eat. After they are academically underway they can live anywhere they choose.
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