Empty halls echo

By Lesley Rogers

Although the west end of campus is in no danger of becoming a ghost town, there are 875 less undergraduate students enrolled at NIU this fall, and the residence halls are feeling the affects of the decrease.

Over 7,500 students lived in the residence halls a few years ago, and currently the total occupancy is 6,759. However, with the anticipated decrease in enrollment, the estimated number of students living in the halls this fall was 5,800.

Carl Jardine, director of student housing services, attributes the sudden increase of students to the decision of the university to maintain open admissions throughout the summer.

The deadline for applications was August 1 last year, but was extended this year to August 30, in hopes of encouraging more students to apply.

Jardine said the late deadline “played a significant role in helping us get the numbers to the level where they are.”

In the fall of 1991, the residence halls had an overflow of students, many who had to live in the study lounges in Lincoln and Douglas Hall.

NIU began down sizing enrollment the past few years, in an attempt to allow students to make better use of resources. The “trimming” of enrollment helped the housing situation, but when enrollment did not stabilize, the residence halls became underhoused.

“When you talk about the overall impact, the negatives include the loss of revenue to take care of a wide range of problems,” Jardine said, noting that some of the residence halls are around 30 years old and are in need of renovation.

Loss of enrollment is one of the major reasons for the increase in the cost of room and board, which went up five percent per semester, said Patricia Hewitt, associate vice president of business and operations.

“We knew the dip in enrollment would happen, but it turned out to be lower than we thought it would be,” Hewitt said. “Now there are less people to spread the cost over and part of that drop reflects the number of people who enrolled.”

Housing receives no outside funding and does not make money, Hewitt said, but it relies on food service for income.

“Food service is the only money maker. If there are 800 students living in the dorm compared to 1,000, it costs the same to heat the building, but it costs less to feed the students,” Hewitt said.

Students’ room and board fees pay for salaries of janitors, housing and overhead accounts as well as general upkeep of the buildings.

Floors on residence halls were not closed down this semester, but it is an option to close a floor, wing or even a whole building if enrollment continues to decrease, Jardine said.

“We looked into the possibility of closing down a floor, but enrollment numbers exceeded our original expectations. We were in a position to offer more singles, and many individuals took that option,” Jardine said.

Hewitt said she did not think shutting down a wing or floor would save the university money.

“Shutting down a wing won’t save as much money as shutting down a whole building. The kitchen is expensive and so is the heat,” Hewitt said.

“We will look at all the different options of the students in the university. If the enrollment continues to drop that is something that may be likely to happen,” she said.

Jardine said one of the lower occupancy issues to address is that traditional residence halls are not the way of the future.

“Students are in many ways different from what students may have been five years ago, especially 25 years ago,” Jardine said. “They have different expectations, they want different options to be available, such as suites, singles and academic options.”

An ad-hoc committee comprised of administrators and students, met yesterday to study the residence hall occupancy issues.

Donald Buckner, chairperson of the committee and associate vice president of student affairs, said debating the issues will be a long process.

“We are looking at occupancy trends and ways to make the residence halls more attractive to students,” Buckner said. “With the decreasing enrollment we need to enhance occupancy.”

The committee is studying the history and trends of the residence halls and admissions at NIU, and hopes to report possible solutions to housing in an effort to battle the loss of enrollment.

Jardine said improving the residence halls will encourage more students to live there.

“A crisis of nature tends to create opportunities. We will be able to offer a variety of living options to provide a facility that has been renovated, with contemporary furniture and carpeting. Computer labs and weight rooms will encourage students to stay beyond their residency requirement,” he said.