More freshmen students enrolling than expected has left the college seeking places for many to live

Goucher housing crunch

August 02, 2006|By GADI DECHTER | GADI DECHTER,SUN REPORTER

An unexpectedly large influx of freshmen at Goucher College means that as many as 100 returning students won't have a place to live on the Towson campus this month.

As compensation, they might get room service.

Several dozen rooms have been secured at a nearby apartment complex, but officials at the private liberal arts college are still scrambling to find off-campus housing for 30 to 60 students. One option under serious consideration is to place some students in the Sheraton hotel near the campus, said Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar.

Some students can't wait to check in.

"I would love to live in the Sheraton," said rising junior Ashley Dubin, naming the hotel pool and skywalk access to the Towson Town Center mall as some of the amenities that have returning students buzzing with anticipation. "The whole idea of living in a hotel is really cool."

College officials are not as pleased. Though a surge in student interest is always welcome, overenrollment can strain a campus, bloating course sizes and faculty workload in addition to causing a housing crunch.

The current Goucher situation is a case study in an increasingly common problem at colleges nationwide: an increase in students applying to multiple colleges - facilitated largely by the ease of online applications - has made predicting enrollment much more difficult.

A widely reported enrollment boom at George Washington University in 2001 forced officials to lease hotel space in Washington to accommodate 400 more students than were expected. In the past two years, the Johns Hopkins University has had to lease rooms for students at the Hopkins Inn in Charles Village, said Bill Conley, dean of enrollment management.

"What has happened over the last 10 years or so is that colleges are getting more applications, but the reliability of old formulas they used to predict how many would come were rendered obsolete," said David Hawkins, policy director at the National Association for College Admission, a group that studies enrollment trends.

While a college can decide how many applicants to accept for admission, it can only guess how many will decide to attend. That second number, known as the student yield, is becoming increasingly volatile, Hawkins said.

In June, The Chronicle of Higher Education forecast that universities nationwide would underestimate student demand this year, but preliminary figures don't indicate a significant overenrollment trend in Maryland.

Johns Hopkins and Maryland Institute College of Art reported a 3 percent increase in student yield over last year, while Loyola College's incoming class is "slightly overenrolled," but not enough to create serious housing problems, a spokesman said. Hopkins will have enough university housing this year to meet student demand, said its enrollment dean.

Comprehensive enrollment statistics for the 11-campus University System of Maryland won't be available until October, but student yield at the University of Maryland, College Park remained unchanged from last year, according to a spokeswoman, with about 38 percent of accepted students electing to enroll.

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, yield remained constant at 36 percent to 38 percent, said Yvette Mozie-Ross, assistant provost for enrollment management.

Officials agreed with Goucher's Ungar that predicting student demand is as much an art as a science.

"Every college has this exact same problem to one extent or another because students don't apply to just one college," Ungar said. "These days most students apply to at least six or eight colleges, so yield becomes an ever more complicated issue."

The percentage of incoming freshmen applying to five or more colleges has doubled in the past 20 years, according to data compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 2005, nearly 40 percent of freshmen sent applications to five or more colleges.

At private, four-year colleges such as Goucher, the figure was close to 43 percent last year, with 10 percent of students saying they had applied to 8 to 10 colleges.

When a college is trying to increase its enrollment, as Goucher is, the complexity of managing enrollment only increases, because the admissions department tends to ease open the spigot of acceptances.

This year, the college accepted 70 percent of its applicants, up from 67 percent last year. Because last year only about 17 percent of accepted students elected to enroll, officials expected the incoming freshman class to be about 400.

That would have been a sizable increase from about 340 in the 2005-2006 school year, but 460 students decided to enroll, or about 35 percent more than last year.

No freshmen will be asked to live off campus, said Ungar, but some will find themselves bunking three to a dormitory room instead of in pairs. The college will also hire more part-time faculty to teach oversubscribed courses, he said.

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