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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Res. Life copes with enrollment nearing capacity

New regulations would keep freshmen from living at extended campus.

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Mizzou Quads at Campus Lodge has provided Residential Life with extra space after two years of record enrollment. Mizzou Quads will remain open next year, though there will be a drop-off in the rooms available for Residential Life.

Nichole Ballard/Senior Staff Photographer

MU has faced record enrollment two of the last three years, and students have started to notice space tightening where they live, eat and go to class. In this first part of a four-part series, The Maneater focuses on residence halls and what the university has done to accommodate the growing student population.

*See below for an interactive graphic that explains Residential Life's occupancy versus its capacity.

The Department of Residential Life is continuing to formulate plans to ensure there is enough space for students who want to be part of campus living.

According to the Office of the Registrar, total enrollment has been steadily increasing the past several years and has reached record highs. Between 2007 and 2008, the university saw a 6.1 percent increase in enrollment. Between 2008 and 2009, the enrollment grew 3.7 percent.

Along with other campus departments, Residential Life has had to make changes to accommodate the growth.

The Residence Halls Association passed a resolution Feb. 8 to encourage the administration and student leadership groups to work together in finding a way to accommodate all students. RHA Parliamentarian Jared Grafman, a Maneater staff member, presented the bill.

"This is basically saying that we as residents realize that there's a problem and we'd like to discuss what the university is planning on doing to help," Grafman said.

Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said the demand of campus living space in the '90s exceeded the supply, and MU rented rooms from a vacated residence hall at Stephens College.

Minor said Residential Life rented space from Stephens three or four times, and in most instances students were living on MU campus by the end of September. Usually 30 to 40 students were housed at Stephens' Hillcrest Hall, but one year, nearly 200 students lived there.

To lease extended housing, Residential Life paid Campus Lodge $1.1 million and Campus View $1.4 million this year, much more than $120,000 spent leasing from Stephens.

After Residential Life quit renting space at Stephens, some students stayed in temporary room assignments on campus until permanent assignments were available.

"In more recent years when we were short 30 to 40 spaces we've placed students in with student staff members," Minor said.

Between the fall and spring semesters, Minor said 8 to 9 percent of student residents move out for various reasons including graduation, withdrawal or to study abroad. Several contracts are canceled at the beginning at the semester.

"We have our high tide on opening day," Minor said. "We always have a number of students for whom we're holding contracts. Some students arrive and withdraw or transfer shortly thereafter. We tend to have about 40 to 60 students who are either no shows, cancel or withdraw within the first few weeks of school."

This creates ample room to accommodate spring semester students, Minor said. The increase of space enabled about 450 students to be relocated from Gillett Hall, which is closed this semester for renovations.

Senior Morgan Diehl, who lives at Tiger Diggs, said living space isn't used strategically and it causes frustration.

"It looks like they have plenty of space, but they don't utilize the space like they should," Diehl said. "At Tiger Diggs, most of the apartments hold four people but only three people are living in them. It's great for the people living there, but it makes problems for everyone else."

Residential Life typically houses about 30 percent of the undergraduate population, Minor said, and about 6,500 students are living in residential life housing. Twenty-two residence halls, Mizzou Quads and Tiger Diggs are available to students this semester, but new restrictions will soon be implemented.

Interactive graphic

With record enrollment and more students returning to the residence halls, Residential Life has explored off-campus housing options but is not worried about going overcapacity. Even so, occupancy reports have steadily risen with the capacity offered by Residential Life, but a large drop-off in available rooms is expected next year.

Source: Residential Life

"We will deal with some of this excessive demand by offering some extended campus housing, but restricting that just to returning students," Minor said.

Minor said there would be about 240 spaces available at extended campus next year as opposed to the nearly 600 currently available.

Diehl said this regulation will be beneficial to both under and upperclassmen.

"I think that's a great idea because my observation with most freshmen is that if they get off campus they think they're more toward the top dogs and act more irresponsible," Diehl said. "They need to get in the groove of things before living off campus. For seniors and juniors, extended campus is a great way for them to focus on their studies."

Although freshmen will be restricted from living at extended campus, fewer returning students will be allowed to live on campus. That will be necessary because there's a large drop-off in capacity — from 7,347 beds to 6,451 — for the first time since the 2004 to 2005 academic year. Since that year there has been a steady rise in both capacity and average semester occupancy.

"We're restricting the number of returning students who otherwise might want to come back to campus housing," Minor said. "We need to reserve space for new students."

Grafman said he's concerned about the number of students who might not be able to live in residence halls, especially because changed guidelines for Residents' Online Access to Rooms, which is used by returning students who want to live in residence halls again.

"We've restructured ROAR and are having to turn away students from residence halls," Grafman said.

Students who have disciplinary problems will have lower priority next semester as well. Minor said the original suggestion to restrict students for conduct reasons came from RHA, and Residential Life figured out the logistics. Students who this regulation applies to recently received notification.

"We sent an e-mail to any of those students who are living with us who are on university or residential probation because of their conduct, letting them know that although they will be permitted to live on campus, they will be moved to the bottom of the priority list," Minor said.

Minor said the increase in demand for residential space is short-term.

"What we're experiencing is a temporary phenomenon," Minor said. "If you look at the history, we've always had sufficient capacity. We've just experienced some things in the last few years where we've had a significantly higher demand."

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