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Recent student influx changes dorm options

February 5, 2007

After applying to universities, getting accepted and officially deciding where to attend, the next issue that arises for a new student is housing.

Many universities, including UW-River Falls, require incoming freshmen to live on-campus for at least their first year. Because of the large number of students that are required and want to live on campus, housing shortages are common. UWRF is no exception.

According to summaries put out twice a month by the UWRF Admissions Office, the amount of applications that the University receives from new freshmen and transfer students each semester has remained fairly stable throughout the last several years, showing less than a 1% increase from 2003 to 2006. However, the amount of students that are admitted and remain active – meaning that they officially enroll – has shown much more variation. For example, fall semester 2005 to fall semester 2006 showed an increase of 4.5 percent.

The question the increase creates is where to put all the incoming students. Terry Willson has been working as Director of Residence Life at UWRF for 10 years and believes that the last two years have shown the biggest numbers by far.

Fall semester opened with a total enrollment of 5,990 students. 2,444 of those students live in the residence halls, meaning UWRF has 41% of its total students live on-campus. These numbers, Willson said, are right on par with expectations.

“Our goal is to house 40% of the student population, so we’re right on track,” Terry Willson, director of residential life said. “These are our highest numbers ever, and have been for two years in a row.”
During times of high enrollment, especially at the beginning of the school year, temporary housing is common. Any space that can be used to house students, from study lounges to basement storage, is converted into temporary housing.

“For fall, we looked at every possible space we could put two beds and a dresser in, and used it,” Willson said.

While temporary housing may sound harsh, it’s actually a common practice for some universities. Similar to overbooking in hotels, the University plans on making use of temporary housing knowing that they will lose students to transfers and drops. To some, it might seem risky, but the Residence Life staff is committed to keeping students comfortable, even in temporary housing, Willson said.

There are resources available to help students during their first weeks in on-campus housing, be it temporary or permanent, if they find the transition to on-campus living difficult.

Sarah Egerstrom isco-director of First-Year Experience, a program that began in August with the goal of helping out newly admitted students, transfer students, and their families.

“We’re about getting them connected to the resources they need to be successful,” Egerstrom said.

Before the fall semester started, Residence Life took every measure to make sure that students were aware of the housing shortage, sending letters and offering students that are normally required to live in on-campus housing the opportunity to live elsewhere. Students that still chose to live on campus were transferred from temporary to permanent housing as it became available.

For spring semester, while UWRF was ready to use temporary housing, it wasn’t needed. In fact, there are currently around 100 beds still open, mostly for women.

Knowing that new semesters bring about a need for even more space, plans are already in progress for next year.

“One thing we are going to do to guarantee space is discontinue the single rooms on campus. We’ll probably send out a letter letting students know that they can keep their room space, but will have to accept a roommate,” Willson said.

Brian Hogenson, a senior who is currently living in a designated single room, won’t have to deal with the housing issue after he graduates at the end of the semester. However, he understands that the discontinuation of single rooms may be essential to creating more space.

“Five to six people shouldn’t be shoved into a study lounge. Also, the loss of the study lounges for the purposes they’re actually there for hurts those who need them for academic purposes,” Hogenson said. “So, it’s a more far-reaching issue than just a matter of people being [stuck in] temporary housing.”

UWRF will continue to offer singles for medical and disability reasons, and South Fork Suites will remain as is. Residence assistant contracts, Willson said, specify that single rooms will be provided “as available.”
“This past fall we assigned roommates to approximately 30 RA’s. Most did not have roommates longer than the first week of classes. We anticipate doing the same at the beginning of fall semester 2007,” Willson said.

Singles aren’t completely out of reach for students. Willson also said that once students initially assigned to temporary housing have received permanent assignments, single rooms will be granted as additional spaces become available.

The biggest plans to create more space have to do with the building of another residence hall, known currently as South Fork Suites II. Willson disclosed that plans have been submitted to build another South Fork Suites, which will bring the housing capacity from 240 to 480 students. It is expected that a decision will be made later this spring, and if all goes as planned, another residence hall may be available to students around 2010. While South Fork Suites is currently available only to third and fourth-year students, the new building may also be open to sophomores.

With enrollment anticipated to continue increasing, UWRF is preparing to take on new students and Willson, among others, is optimistic that it will have a positive effect on all involved.

“We are one of the most residential campuses in the UW system,” Willson said, “and we want enrollment to continue increasing – it’s a good thing.”