Adjusting to close quarters Dorms: Maryland universities are dealing with increased enrollments and trying to find room on campus for resident students.

September 09, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

In Baltimore and Towson, College Park and Catonsville, university dormitories are filled to capacity -- and some campuses are taking drastic measures to accommodate students.

Towson State University, for example, offered hundreds of dollars to upperclassmen who agreed to surrender their rooms. The school, which has its largest freshman class in nearly two decades, also turned windowless storage rooms and lounges into temporary living quarters.

The University of Maryland College Park, meanwhile, spent a half-million dollars to refurbish and reopen two vacant residence halls. UMBC took parents and students on off-campus bus tours to highlight housing options in the area. The Johns Hopkins University tempted freshman and sophomores with $1,000 discounts if three students would bunk in a room instead of two on the Homewood campus; it also leased space at the nearby Hopkins Inn for 14 students.

The campuses are reeling from a demographic trend termed the "echo baby boom." In other words, the children of postwar baby boomers are entering college.

And the problem has hit campuses across the nation. Cornell University Medical School in New York, fearing crowding, offered to waive tuition for new students who agreed to postpone enrollment for a year. Five students took the deal worth $24,000.

"It's the beginning of a new era," said W. Barry Evans, Towson State assistant director of residence halls. "We'll have to adjust."

An unanticipated increase in freshmen triggered Towson State's housing woes.

More than 1,850 first-time students are enrolled at the university this semester, an increase of 350 over last year. About three-quarters of those students are expected to try to cram into the 3,300 beds in 12 campus residence halls.

To gain more dormitory space, Towson State offered $500 and a parking permit worth $80 to any junior or senior willing to relinquish a dorm room. By Friday, 15 students had agreed to the offer.

Overflow students have been placed in temporary, makeshift quarters. For instance, a storage room that once held broken and unused furniture now houses four freshmen women.

"My mom freaked," said Kim Tyrrell, 17, of Owings in Calvert County. "She thought I wouldn't be able to study." But, with only four students in the eight-bunk room, her mother's fears soon were allayed, she said.

And the young women seem to have adjusted well to the windowless, beige cinder-block room.

Posters hang on the walls, miniature refrigerators are in place, and the bunk beds are made up with quilts and stuffed animals.

"I like it," said Helen Smith, 18, of Marlton, N.J. "I want to stay."

Visitor Paula Oak, a freshman who lives in a nearby dormitory, said she was impressed with the size of her friends' second-floor space in Tower A, a 16-floor residence hall.

"I don't have room to walk," she said of her dorm. "This is roomy. That's why I'm always here."

Another benefit, the women say, is their location next to the laundry room.

But a drawback -- a big one -- is the lack of windows.

"I didn't know it was raining," said Smith of the recent stormy weather.

Added Nicky Gentile, 18, of Timonium, "You could sleep till 4 p.m. and not know what time it is."

Towson State officials saw the problem coming, and gave students until mid-August to volunteer for the incentive program. But the decision to proceed with the program wasn't made until last week, when students returned to campus and the scarcity of rooms became obvious.

At the University of Maryland College Park, officials also anticipated the increased demand for campus housing, said spokeswoman Lydia Schindler.

Last fall, the university poured $500,000 into furnishings and other improvements at two residence halls that had been closed since 1992, creating 286 more housing slots this semester. It also turned single rooms into doubles to boost space.

"We've seen a lot higher return rates," Schindler said of students who lived on campus last year and wanted to come back.

Part of the attraction, she said, is the campus' specialty dorms, such as an honors dorm and designated residence halls for students who want an environment free of alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

The demand for the "abstinence" rooms has increased from 120 students in 1993 to 1,050 this semester, she said.

Meanwhile, at Towson State, which has a specialty dorm for its growing number of international students, officials are trying to keep up with demand.

But not all students are happy with the overflow spaces, said Randy Bahjat, an area coordinator who oversees Tower A. The university is trying to get students into regular rooms as soon as possible, he said.

But now he's worried about the four Tower A women inhabiting the one-time storage room.

"These students reacted really well. I'm afraid they'll be unhappy if we move them."

Pub Date: 9/09/96

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