Growing enrollment brings growing pains

BY BEN MARKS | JUNE 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa’s incoming freshman class is estimated to be the school’s largest yet, and officials say to expect growing pains in the coming years when it comes to housing.

Although official numbers won’t be in for a few months, Brent Gage, the UI associate vice president for enrollment management, said officials are working on estimating exactly how many incoming freshmen the school will have.

“With early registration, we know who graduated, who’s registered, and who will return,” he said, “The big question we’re tracking right now is, How many new students are we going to have?”

Gage said current estimates place that number a little under or above 5,000 students — the largest the UI has ever had.

Last year’s freshman class was 4,666 students and was the previous record holder.

With roughly 500 more students than last year, UI Provost P. Barry Butler said he believes this number matches well with the UI’s multiyear plan to increase enrollment, a plan that Gage said the college has pursued for the past three years.

“This is the third year we’ve been looking at a way to strategically build our enrollment to the ideal level based on where we were as more capacity became available,” he said.

This greater capacity comes courtesy of the new Petersen Hall, the UI’s first new dormitory since 1968.

After more than two years of construction, Petersen will open in a few months, just in time for the fall semester, and with 260 residence rooms, it’s expected to pick up the added burden of the incoming freshman class.

“Petersen Hall adds 500 [beds], so we should be well-covered,” said UI Vice President for Student Life  Tom Rocklin.

However, even with Petersen, Rocklin said, the university will still have students placed in “expanded housing,” as it has for the past 50 years.

Estimating a certain number of students will drop out in the first few weeks, the university generally over, rather than under, books housing, something that Rocklin said he sees as a good thing.

“If we didn’t have students in expended housing, that would mean we turned people away,” he said. “Our goal is to have a small number in expanded housing and have everyone placed in permanent rooms by the third week.”

Along with Petersen, the UI will also construct a Madison Street dorm, located near Burge on the site of the old Iowa City water plant.

At 12 stories, 1,023 beds, and a dining hall, the dorm will be the biggest on campus.

However, it isn’t scheduled to open until the fall of 2017, and Quadrangle will be demolished next summer to make room for a new pharmacy building. When that happens, the university will lose around 350 beds.

This means, unless next year’s freshman enrollment drastically drops, the UI will still be short quite a few beds for the school year starting in the fall of 2016.

Rocklin called the 2016-17 academic  year a “challenge year” and said the university would most likely lease a number of apartment buildings around the city to make up the difference until the Madison Street facility is scheduled to open.

Last fall, UI had 22,354 undergraduate students; in the fall of 2013, there were 21,973.

Gage said these numbers should be about the same for the upcoming school year, and he doesn’t expect any major shifts.

The official UI enrollment numbers will be announced 10 days after the start of the fall semester.

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