On Campus

It’s getting crowded in here

Campus residences are overflowing with crush of first-year students

Incoming students at Dalhousie University that were guaranteed a room in residence are out of luck as the school year starts. At least 75 students will have to sleep in common areas while the university finds a solution to an apparent overflow. It is a direct result of rising enrolment numbers, says Heather Sutherland, assistant vice-president ancillary services. “Dalhousie is thriving,” she said.

Many universities intentionally oversubscribe their residences, and temporary housing is common, as there are always a handful of students who change their minds, or simply don’t show up. What is notable at Dalhousie this year, is that the university is having difficulty accommodating first-year students who are guaranteed a room if they apply before August 1. It may take until Thanksgiving before the housing situation is sorted out. “Past practice has shown us they’re not sure where they want to live,” Sutherland said.

Dalhousie is just one of several universities across Canada that is experiencing a crush of first-year students wanting to live on campus. While final enrolment numbers are not yet available, universities are preparing for what could be a record year.

Similar to Dalhousie, the University of Western Ontario guarantees a room to all first-year students who apply, but has avoided having to resort to temporary housing, or a waiting list. With an extra 270 first-year students wanting a bed, a little over 100 will be housed in on campus apartments, normally reserved for upper-years students. The displaced older students are being moved to an apartment building just off campus that the university leased in anticipation of increased demand. “We know that first-year students want to be on campus,” Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president of housing, said.

At McGill University, the residence normally operates at 105 per cent capacity at the beginning of the year. This year they are running at 110 per cent. To accommodate for the overflow, and a general rise in demand in recent years, McGill has converted other areas, such as small study areas, into rooms. Additionally, the university has acquired three hotels, adding at least 800 rooms, to be converted to residences by September 2011.

Mike Porritt, executive director of student housing for McGill, says that while higher enrolment can partially explain the increase in demand for residence, it is the proximity to campus services that is attracting students. Students are closer to their classes and libraries, and can more easily form study groups. “We’re a part of the academic mission of the university,” he said. To back up that claim, he cites internal numbers that show first-year students living in residence boast grade point averages six per cent higher than their peers who live off campus. The retention rate, students who stay on for second year, is eight per cent higher for those who live on campus.

At the University of British Columbia, where demand has been straining the school’s resources for much of the past decade, a survey of 6,000 students last year revealed that 82 per cent recognize that it is profitable to live at school. “There seems to be a heightened understanding of the benefits of living on campus,” Andrew Parr, UBC’s managing director of student housing, said.

Across the city from UBC, Simon Fraser University takes a unique approach to campus housing. “We don’t oversubscribe,” says Chris Rogerson, associate director of residence. Instead, SFU only sends out as many offers as there are rooms available. Any offers that are declined are then sent to the next students on the list. In previous years, about 55 per cent accepted the first offer. This year the yield was closer to 65 per cent.

Not every university is experiencing rising demand for on campus living, however. York University has seen a steady decline, being unable to even fill existing rooms. In 2008, there were around 50 vacancies. Last year, there was approximately 150. This fall, Debbie Kee, director of housing, expects there to be 250 unfilled rooms. The decline is a combination of new housing developments around the campus, and the fact that York is a commuter school. Many students, who live in the Greater Toronto Area, who might have previously lived in residence, are choosing to stay home because of financial restraints. “Unfortunately it has left us a little shy,” Kee said.

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