As USD’s enrollment continues to grow and resident halls overflow, University Housing has had to get creative with room assignments.
In order to accommodate the large freshman class, University Housing has had to make maximum use of the temporary spaces, which included transforming the floor lounges into four-person rooms and having the RA’s share their rooms with students.
A growing student body
Ashley Hartnett, the director for University Housing, said close to 1,000 students are living in North Complex this year. She said this is more than usual.
“I would say we definitely had an increase in applications and new students coming to USD,” Hartnett said. “In order to be able to provide them housing, we’ve had to identify temporary spaces for our students and make them livable units until a permanent space opens up. So we’ve done that in the past, but this year we’ve had to use all and every space that we’ve had available.”
University President, Sheila Gestring, said the growth may be a result of new university initiatives.
“It’s incredibly exciting and very optimistic about the [freshman] class,” Gestring said. “The housing numbers are actually over capacity for the time being, and as we go forward, we’re hopeful that all the initiatives that we’ve done, such as Iowa and Nebraska students getting resident (tuition) rates, will play a role in new growth.”
Kim Grieve, the vice president of student services and dean of students, said the living spaces are temporary, and as other students transfer or drop out, the students living in them will be moved to permanent spaces.
“(The overflow students) will be in temporary spaces as we have what we call our ‘melt,’” Grieve said. “Students that are in those particular lounges will then go into regular residence hall rooms.”
Harnett said students placed in overflow housing filled out their housing applications later than others.
“They weren’t given the option to select a temporary space, it was more just based on when they applied,” Hartnett said. “So that’s usually how room assignments are figured out, it is based on when they’ve submitted their application.”
Nybol Kur is one of four girls that are living in her temporary lounge room. Her roommates are Paige Schueller, Law Paw and Grace Kidd, all first-year students.
Kur said she had already been accepted to live with another roommate, but she started to get nervous when her roommate was assigned a room and she wasn’t. In July, Kur received an email from University Housing informing her she would be placed in temporary housing.
“I did get accepted with another girl and then they switched it up on us and like randomly assigned us here,” Kur said. “The other girl that I was going to room with got one roommate, and I got three. I was so confused.”
Two of her roommates said they had similar stories. Although they had previously selected and accepted roommates, these three girls were still chosen to live in the temporary spaces. Their original roommates are living in permanent traditional two-person rooms in North Complex. Kidd said she was not assigned to any other roommates.
Kidd said they were not notified of their room assignments until July 12th. Before she was assigned her temporary space, Kur said she was unsure if she would have a place to live.
“I was just like what am I supposed to do, school is starting soon,” Kur said. “I didn’t know where they were going to put me. I was like, I’m basically homeless right now.”
Paw said she expressed her discontent with the housing department before move-in day.
“I called them and said ‘how come I haven’t gotten assigned yet, and how come I didn’t get my other roommate?’” Paw said. “We had talked to each other already and gotten to know each other already, and I was so happy to move in with her, but then I found out later that I was going to have three other roommates.”
Kur said she also contacted the housing department with her complaints.
“I would call them like every day, and say ‘what are you guys doing, like why aren’t you guys assigning me a room?’ I was really irritated by them, I felt like they weren’t organized,” she said.
Schueller said they received a discounted rate on their housing because of the situation.
“It’s not that big of a discount, it’s like a couple hundred dollars, it’s nothing crazy,” Schueller said.
Kur said they do not know when they will be moved in their permanent housing.
“They’ll just move us randomly,” she said. “It could be tomorrow, and they’ll call us up and tell us to get your stuff, you’re moving into a new room.”
Kur also said the temporary situation has made it difficult to fully transition into dorm life.
“At first I was really mad because I didn’t get to decorate my dorm the way I wanted to, because I would have to take everything down right away when I move out,” Kur said. “So half of my clothes are literally in my car… That was one of the biggest challenges of coming here.”
All four girls said they are nervous to be placed in their new permanent assignments.
Schueller said she is nervous about getting a new roommate.
“Some people aren’t made for being with other people I feel like, and we’re people that get along really well, because we’re kind of the same,” she said. “(Moving) is going to suck so much.”
Schueller also said she doesn’t feel University Housing would listen to their complaints about wanting to stay in their temporary room permanently.
“I feel like they just don’t care,” Schueller said. “If we all wrote a letter saying that we are fine the way that we are and let them know that we are happy, they’ll just be like, ‘well that’s not going to happen, we need this room back.’”
Hartnett said University Housing recognizes the difficulty these transitions will cause students.
“Students are transitioning to campus and want a permanent spot to stay and develop their community and meet their roommates and get to know the people that are living on their floor,” Hartnett said. “Knowing that their option is temporary and they’re not sure where they’re going to be moved obviously is a challenge, because we want them to feel supported in their transition for their first time here at USD. I think that is a barrier, but it’s something we’re navigating with each individual student.”
Grieve said she understands the stress these transitions can cause first-year students, but she is confident in the housing staff’s ability to address the problems.
“We have a great housing staff,” she said. “They are highly trained, and they’re working with all the students and being transparent about the situation we’re in and also continuing to communicate on an ongoing basis so students understand where we are.”
Despite their circumstances, their temporary lounge room has given the four roommates a chance to develop new friendships. Kur said that although none of her roommates knew each other before they were given their room assignment, she enjoys living in the space.
“At first I was like no way… Now I’m okay with it because honestly I really like it, and I would like to stay in here,” she said.
Schueller said the four roommates get along well and have fun living together.
“It feels kind of like a giant sleepover. We’re all considerate of each other,” she said.
Kur also said she enjoys the style of the room.
“It’s really spacious, I love it,” she said. “When I walked in here, I was like whoa, this is awesome, I’m so happy.”
Grieve said she is not worried about the quality of living in the temporary lounge space affecting retention.
“The lounges are actually really, really nice, and students are always disappointed when they have to go into regular rooms,” Grieve said.
Looking towards the future
Gestring said the university will begin to reevaluate its housing policies after they recognize a trend in increasing enrollment.
“As we begin to see that enrollment becomes a trend, as opposed to one-year, we’ll start to really take a look at the housing master plan that we put together several years ago,” Gestring said. “And that time may come, with any luck, in two to three years.”
Hartnett also said that conversations have begun on how housing can respond to a trend of increasing enrollment of students who wish to live on campus.
“The conversation point can always be should we build or should we not, but we have to evaluate the long-term plan… so that’s why we need to spend more time with some projections,” Hartnett said. “No decisions have been made, we’re just keeping an eye on what the need might be for future years and what options we may have.”
Rachel Newville contributed to this story.