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UI expanded housing is logical

BY GUEST OPINION | SEPTEMBER 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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I appreciate The Daily Iowan's concern about students placed in expanded housing ("UI over-housing woes absurd," Aug. 30, 2011). It's a concern I share.

In order to reduce the number of students who start their year in expanded housing, we have added almost 300 beds to the system over the last two years, primarily by leasing two buildings. This proactive effort has, despite record admissions and record retention, kept the number of students in expanded housing to a reasonable number. We expect that most students in expanded housing will be in their permanent rooms soon. While it's not an ideal situation, our surveys indicate that it has real positives for some students, and is tolerable to most.

As the DI acknowledges, predicting exactly the number of students who will actually arrive and move into the residence halls is impossible. At the high point in the application cycle, we have thousands more students with complete applications than will ultimately move in to the residence halls. Cancellation rates vary somewhat from year to year, so our best estimates will necessarily miss the mark. The earlier in the cycle, the less accurate the estimate will be, and unfortunately, if we are going to lease off-campus buildings, we have to act early in the cycle.

So, sometimes, we will not have enough beds in permanent locations for all the students who want beds. But what would the DI have us do? Should we deny housing to students who want to live in the residence halls? Research and experience demonstrate that spending the first few weeks of the semester in expanded housing is much better for students' success than living off campus would be. Of course, students who are assigned to expanded housing have the option of declining their housing contract and living off campus instead. Most choose to move in to expanded housing, and we think that's a good choice.

I suppose that we could, theoretically, overbuild to such an extent that we can guarantee every student a permanent room at move-in. To make that guarantee, we would, given the uncertainties in predicting the number of residents, have to build more rooms than we will ever need.

Many people don't know that the residence hall system is strictly self-supporting. No general fund money goes to the residence halls, so the only revenue available to pay for those extra rooms would come from increased rates paid by all residents. Charging students more so that we can have empty rooms doesn't seem like a good idea.

The staff in University Housing & Dining have done a great job of minimizing the number of students starting the semester in expanded housing and of improving the experience those students have, and I congratulate them.

Tom Rocklin is the vice president for Student Life at the University of Iowa.


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