Too many freshmen, too few dorm rooms

Crowding: Morgan State students live in lounges after the school admits its largest class.

September 17, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Shannon Johnson was surprised at the size of her room at Morgan State University. "It seemed so big and I was happy," said Johnson, a freshman from Upper Marlboro. "Then I noticed there were four beds. And no closet."

Johnson is among dozens of Morgan students who are living in converted lounges or other makeshift rooms because the university admitted too many freshmen.

The nearly 1,500 first-year students make up Morgan's biggest freshman class ever - and to make housing matters worse, an unusually large percentage wanted to live in a dorm.

"Unfortunately, we were not prepared for so many people wanting to live on campus," said Clinton R. Coleman, a school spokesman.

Overcrowding is not unusual at colleges, especially when students first arrive. Almost all schools accept more freshmen than they expect to attend.

Last year, the Johns Hopkins University had to move 31 students into the top two floors of a hotel on St. Paul Street.

At Morgan, officials usually admit two or three times the number of students they expect will enroll, Coleman said. The school accepted about 4,100 freshmen this year, he said, and figured that would yield a class of about 1,300.

But the extra freshmen are a positive sign for the school, Coleman said.

"We're pleasantly surprised at the numbers," he said.

The university has had trouble retaining students in the past. To maintain federal funding tied to attendance, officials last year had to re-enroll about 900 students who had dropped out of school because they had failed to pay their bills.

Atypical living situation

Because of the student overflow, some freshmen have been moved to off-campus apartments or upperclass dorms. The remainder are living in lounges, which are bigger than an average double room - but may house up to four students and lack many amenities.

Most have only one phone line, one cable line and no closet. Instead, residents are using hanging clothes racks or portable dressers, which they can stuff under their beds.

With four people living in the same room, there are also more chances for the students to disagree about typical roommate issues such as lights out, phone time and neatness.

"I'm a clean person, so let's just say everybody isn't clean," said Steven Minus, a freshman from Greenbelt. "The smell of dirty clothes bothers me."

National data show that more students are applying to college, and they are more likely to apply to many schools. That means that students will likely be accepted at several colleges or put on waiting lists, so they might not make their final decision until late summer.

"That has really increased the unpredictability," said David Hawkins, the director of public policy at the National Association of College Admission Counseling in Alexandria, Va. "In the end, it's hard to know how many people are going to attend until the first day."

Morgan freshmen living in student lounges have little sympathy for the difficulty of predicting student yield. Many of those students have been shuffled between rooms as school officials look for more space.

Roommate matters

Minus lived with a roommate for two days at the start of the school year, which began Aug. 30, before learning he would be assigned to a new room in Rawlings Hall.

"I'm thinking that I'm going to get a permanent place and I can settle in. And then I get up there, and I see I'm in a place with three other dudes, and I'm like, `Oh no,' " Minus said.

But Johnson didn't even get a room for the first two days of school. She drove to the Northeast Baltimore campus from Prince George's County and was told there was no place for her to stay. When she returned home, her parents were surprised.

"I thought I'd sent my little girl off to college. I really didn't think we'd be seeing her again so soon," said Johnson's mother, Valerie.

Many students say that they have adjusted to living with three other people.

"At first it was a disappointment, but after meeting the people, it wasn't so bad," said Latia Thompson, a sociology major from Plainfield, N.J.

She said the arrangement had its benefits. She left her keys inside her room in Blount Towers and was standing outside nervously watching the darkening sky, waiting for one of her roommates to let her in.

"This way, you have more people you can depend on," Thompson said.

School officials say that they plan to move all of the students out of the lounges into off-campus housing within the next several weeks.

"We'd like to have them on campus so they can have the complete experience, but this is the best we can do," Coleman said.

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