August 26, 2011 by Aaron Strauss
For the second consecutive year, Drexel University Housing is enacting a series of overflow housing measures to accommodate a larger-than-expected incoming freshman class.
Despite the return of Van Rensselaer Hall as an all-freshman building after it housed upperclass and graduate students last year, the magnitude of this year’s overflow is greater than that of last year’s. Drexel’s main campus will have to house an estimated 2,800 freshmen this fall, about 300 more than it did last fall, according to Rita LaRue, senior associate vice president for Drexel Business Services. University Housing’s preliminary estimate of this year’s resident freshman enrollment was about 150 less than the currently projected number of freshman beds needed.
“In January of each year, University Housing creates a building designation plan for the following academic year based on historical data, emerging trends and projections from Enrollment Management, which was 2,900 students,” LaRue said, noting that about 91 percent of the total freshman class was expected to live on campus. “2,652 beds were allocated for incoming freshmen, including 132 triples at Towers Hall.”
Most freshmen received their housing assignments Aug. 19, but some are still waiting for an assignment due to the magnitude of the room shortage.
“For the first time this year, in order to offer the maximum number of both upperclass and freshman students an assignment, freshman assignments have been divided into two rounds, based on date of application received with about 200 freshmen pending assignment. Based on history and current trends, as attrition occurs, students in the second round will be assigned in early September,” LaRue said.
Makeshift housing accommodations that were implemented on a temporary basis last year — including triple-occupancy bedrooms in Towers Hall and lounge spaces used as bedrooms in Kelly, Calhoun and Myers halls — will be utilized as permanent housing assignments for this year, according to LaRue. The only temporary overflow housing measure planned for this fall is roommates for resident assistants. Of the 624 residents in the triple-occupancy rooms of Towers this fall, at least 184 will be students who specifically requested a triple assignment on their housing applications.
“University Housing responded to feedback from the 2010-11 freshman class in creating the current overflow housing plan,” LaRue said. “Many students assigned to triples and lounges for 2010-11 did not want to be relocated to double-occupancy rooms and would have preferred to stay in their temporary assignment. University Housing also listened to feedback from students in last year’s Towers Hall triples and reconfigured the furniture layouts in each bedroom for this year.”
Members of this year’s RA staff have expressed opposition to many aspects of the overflow housing plan, particularly the plan to temporarily assign roommates to some RAs. Vince Petaccio, who is going into his fourth year as an RA, said the RA staff is very concerned about the impact of overflow housing measures on the quality of student life for everyone on campus.
“I’d like to explicitly state that we are working out of concern for the student experience at Drexel University, and not for the convenience for RAs nor for the perpetuity of some kind of RA lifestyle,” Petaccio said. “We truly believe that the University simply does not have the adequate infrastructure in place to warrant the admittance of so many additional students. While we understand the idea of short-term sacrifice for long-term gains, we do not believe that the students should be the ones who are asked to make these sacrifices.”
Petaccio specifically explained the logistical problems that are likely to arise in a situation where an RA lives in the same room as one of his or her residents.
“Assigning roommates to RAs on Drexel’s campus will place both the resident and the RA in a compromising position,” Petaccio said. “For the RA, any authority that was held will be immediately undermined by allowing the resident to comingle with the RA in a common living space. For the resident, living under the constant watchful eye of the RA creates a stressful living environment that could hardly be called healthy or conducive to effective life as a student.”
After having minimal success in discussing these issues with various University administrators, Petaccio said the RA staff hopes to discuss the matter with President John A. Fry during RA training in September.
In order to maximize the amount of available space for incoming freshmen, upperclass students living on campus were once again given the opportunity to cancel their housing agreements for the year without penalty. Additional options were also offered to sophomores who had initially been assigned to Race Street Residences:
“On July 1, 2011, all Race Street returning students received an email letting them know Drexel was enacting an Overflow Housing Plan, that the hall would be predominantly freshmen, and offered them first chance at The Axis, located at 36th and Chestnut Street, as an option; 115 students opted-into The Axis and were reassigned,” LaRue said. “On Aug. 5, 2011, a second email went to Race Street returning students letting them know that reassignment was very possible and offering them a chance to cancel, at no penalty, by Aug. 12, to opt in to Stiles Hall [located on Drexel’s Center City campus] or to do nothing and possibly be reassigned to a University City Main Campus upperclassman residence hall but that moving roommate pairs would be difficult.”
As of Aug. 22, 44 upperclassmen decided to cancel their housing agreements without penalty, and 57 sophomores had been reassigned from Race to a building that they had not requested.
While all of these overflow housing measures may seem new to current students, they are actually not unprecedented. LaRue described similar measures that were taken a decade ago:
“This is not the first time that Drexel has experienced terrific growth that has outpaced available campus housing. For 2000, 2001 and 2002 as Drexel grew and moved from a predominantly commuter to a residential campus, several hundred students were housed in off-campus housing at locations including the University City Sheraton, the University of Pennsylvania, Parktowne Place apartments, One Franklin apartments, the Courts apartments and the International House. In 2003, with the renovation of the Conrail building, now known as University Crossings, Drexel was able to consolidate off-campus housing into one location and then reduced managed floors as the student population re-stabilized. Today, as Drexel continues to expand and students are coming from all parts of the world, the supply of on-campus housing is once again challenged by the demand.”
Additional information on overflow housing measures, housing assignments and move-in arrangements may be found on University Housing’s website.