Despite first-place ranking in the region, vacancies reign in Residential Life
Keene State College struggled to fill on-campus rooms this year and now housing numbers are at an all-time low. As opposed to an average of 80 to 100 vacancies, there are currently 150.
How does this impact students? All of the lost revenue will affect the future budget.
The college would have expected housing costs from 50 to 70 more students. That averages to be about $350,000 to almost $500,000 down this year.
Where will this money come out of? According to Kent Drake-Deese, director of Residential Life and Housing Services they are working on the budget right now and trying to figure out where that money will come from.
However, there were some positives to the decrease in numbers. More vacancies meant more flexibility. This made moving around students an easier task this year, which was a great advantage for them, Andrew Robinson, vice president of student affairs said. He talked about how switches and changes are more feasible with the extra openings, whether it be a roommate conflict, issues off-campus, or a student studying abroad.
There is also more room for transfer students, he said. Robinson mentioned how these openings allow for a more ideal design capacity as well, stating, “We have rooms that are designed as doubles but now they have three people in them and when we’re down a little bit there’s some good news to that too because we can release some of those triples.”
This offered some good opportunities that otherwise would not have been available.
What was behind the drop in students living on campus? One of the main reasons discussed was the drop in first-year enrollment.
According to Robinson, each year a certain number of beds are reserved for first-year students, which were unable to be filled this year.
“We block off a number of rooms for first-year students and this year our enrollments were down a little bit so once we’ve blocked off those rooms, even though we often have people on the waiting list by the time we can release those rooms they’ve already found other places, or they don’t want to live in a first-year residence hall…it becomes a situation of having some people on the waiting list and empty rooms, but we can’t make the match,” Robinson explained.
Drake-Deese also discussed how there are unplanned technicalities during the summer, which could alter the number of returning students. Not all students come back after all, so this combination of unexpected drop-outs and a slump in freshman enrollment seriously affected the housing situation.
Another possible cause could be the increase in off-campus housing. Robinson mentioned how the new Arcadia apartments still are not at full capacity.
The problem with making the match came down to timing.
Robinson pointed out, ”If the juniors and seniors have felt like well, there isn’t room on-campus then they go off-campus before even finding out.” He went on and explained, “So if you’re for instance a junior and you’re looking for housing for next year and you’re not sure you’re going to get housing on-campus then you might go ahead and sign a lease off campus before you even know.”
Students said they get worried about where they could end up the following year, so they tend to go with the immediate, less risky option, rather than biting their nails on the waiting list.
Drake-Deese mentioned one of the important things students need to know is that the housing selection process is just the first part.
He said, “The waitlist really has a bad reputation because there’s this kind of perception that if you don’t get housing in the housing selection process you don’t get housing… it seems to be this end all, be all, that that’s the only way, when that’s really not true at all.”
Drake-Deese explained, “There’s always people who get way better housing on the housing waitlist than if they had gotten a bed in the lottery because who knows? Maybe the best bed on campus, whatever it may be, could be the one that frees up.” The waitlist, as Robinson said, does not always provide a desired match for the student. Drake-Deese explained how there needs to be a healthy number of students on the waitlist to ensure the college gets as close to capacity as possible, but this gets difficult because “juniors and seniors for the most part only want apartments, not exclusively, but for the most part and obviously we have a limited number.”
He discussed possible models for next year’s housing numbers that try to limit the number of first-year beds set aside. One option currently being looked into is giving half of Butler Court back to juniors and seniors, as well as Fiske Hall.
Sheamus Ahern, a junior, said, “That sounds exactly the direction it should go in because it holds everyone’s best interests, it’s more fair.,” regarding reworking the number of available beds per class and opening up more rooms for juniors and seniors.
Whatever the decision, Drake-Deese said, “We’re adding a lot to the junior, senior housing opportunities on campus.”
He said he hoped by creating the right number of beds available for each class the college won’t necessarily have to cut so much for next year.
The word needs to get out and students need to know what’s going to be available because it could alter the final decision. After all, Drake-Deese said, based on the EBI student satisfaction surveys, “Keene State College students are generally way happier with their experience on-campus as compared to other campuses…in the region we actually rank number one.”
Regan Driscoll can be contacted at