Got overcrowding? How institutions find space—and how you can prepare

As students return to campus, early fall can be one of the most exciting times for colleges and universities. But for some institutions, fall means the added stress of figuring out how to accommodate additional students. From the University of Arkansas, which is short by 60 beds, to Georgia State University’s 500-bed shortage, schools across North America are scrambling to find the space for students to rest their heads. Read on to learn what strategies institutions are using to create housing space—and how campuses can prepare before the problem arises.

Five strategies to address the housing crunch

  1. Add extra beds to larger dorm rooms. The quickest fix to a housing crunch is to add an extra bed to the largest dorm rooms, such as converting a large double into a triple. Virginia Tech took this approach with some of its dorm rooms in 2017 and is offering students a reduced rate for these rooms.
  2. Assign one student to each RA's room. While untraditional, this approach provides a few extra beds in each residence hall. This is also a strategy Virginia Tech is using to accommodate a large freshman class.
  3. Convert lounge spaces into dorm rooms. If taken to an extreme, this strategy can create dissatisfaction and pushback from the student body. However, converting a few lounge spaces in each residence hall is another low-cost strategy to create more rooms.
  4. Rent or lease hotel rooms or apartments off-campus. While the most costly solution, renting space is a strategy that quickly eases the strain of converting space on campus. Once institutions have furnished bare spaces and installed staff and/or RAs, students can move in straight away.
  5. Pay students to live off-campus. The final strategy is to pivot from supply to demand. To reduce the strain, the University of Georgia offered students a $1,000 incentive to live off campus. (They focused on local students who had the option to live at home.) They also offered a $3,500 credit to non-first year students willing to live in a more remote residence hall.

Create a consistent housing experience—no matter where students reside

For institutions considering renting or leasing space off campus, it is important to offer a consistent experience for students regardless of where they reside. This requires providing the same level of programming, services, and staff across all residence hall options. Specifically, institutions should think about:

  • Transportation to and from campus. If the housing is far from campus, the institution must provide a shuttle service or subsidize the cost of using public transit.
  • Custodial services and maintenance. Facilities leaders must work with student affairs leadership to determine who will clean and care for these spaces and how frequently.
  • Potential for students in overflow housing to feel isolated. Because of the physical distance from campus, some institutions report that students can feel isolated from the broader community. Leaders can track satisfaction through regular housing surveys and by tracking matriculation and graduation rates. To engage students, institutions can create living-learning communities or facilitate interaction with the surrounding neighborhoods to build community. If nothing else, institutions must include overflow housing locations on the campus map. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga includes overflow housing on the residence hall website and provides information on location, amenities, transportation, and staff on site.

Prepare for a student housing crunch

For institutions that find themselves constrained to accommodate every incoming student or for campuses wondering how they can prepare for the possibility, there are a number of things they can do immediately. First, ensure your housing policy addresses overflow. Even if the campus is not currently facing a space crunch, thinking through the policy can help the campus prepare. The policy itself can also head off concerns from students and parents. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Temporary Overflow Housing Policy explains how students move from temporary to permanent housing and explicitly calls out what spaces were designed as doubles and triples and are not considered overflow spaces.

Second, consider building an FAQ page for overflow housing. This helps institutions quickly answer the most common questions and can be included in any outreach to parents and to the students assigned to or asked to move into overflow spaces. Cedarville University’s Overflow Housing FAQ is a good example.

And finally, if the campus does find itself in a space crunch, campus leaders should communicate early and often with students, parents, faculty, and staff. They can use the institution’s website to communicate, social media, email, hard copy mailing, webinars, and other avenues to ensure the community has every opportunity to understand why overflowing housing is necessary, who will be affected, and the institution’s long-term plan to resolve the crowding.

Another overcrowding issue: faculty offices

It's not just students—faculty are also suffering from overcrowding. Download this complimentary resource to discover how you can recover, reallocate, and curb the growth of office space.

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