Students swarm campuses

Thursday, September 6, 2001

HANOVER, N.H. -- A campus housing crunch at schools around the country is so bad that Dartmouth College has offered freshmen the chance to defer their first year in return for a year of free housing.

Fourteen students out of the roughly 2,000 the Ivy League school accepted this year have taken Dartmouth up on its offer -- worth about $5,000 -- which was extended because of increased student enrollment.

Other colleges and universities in a similar bind are building more dorms, converting study lounges into bedrooms or even renting hotels.

"A lot of people asked me, 'Aren't you going to be a year behind?"' said Anthony Bramante, who is delaying his entry into Dartmouth. "But others admitted that if given the chance to do it, they would."

Observers cite three reasons for the enrollment increases: the economy, demographics and the Internet.

More graduates

With the economic slowdown, more high school graduates -- estimated at 2.8 million this year -- are choosing college over jobs, and the children of baby boomers are reaching college age.

On top of that, the Internet has made applying to college easier. With students applying to more schools, admissions officers have had a tougher time gauging who will attend in the fall, said Barmak Nassirian, a policy analyst at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

For instance, Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, is one of 227 schools that all use the same online undergraduate application. Bates has had to house four students, instead of three, in freshmen dorm rooms this year because of increased enrollment.

Overcrowding is "all the more acute at the large public universities and the elite Ivy institutions," Nassirian said.

Trend to continue

The problem seems unlikely to go away.

In the next decade, undergraduate and graduate school enrollment is projected to increase 20 percent, from 14.8 million in 1999 to 17.7 million by 2011, according to the American Council on Education.

The council also says more high school seniors today are deciding to go straight to college than in years past. In 1999, the group says, 63 percent of high school seniors went to college within 12 months of graduation compared with 49 percent in 1980.

The enrollment increases may force some colleges to become more selective in the future.

"I suspect that a number of the colleges that are a little higher than they want to be in terms of enrollment will have to alter their admissions rates," said Wylie Mitchell, dean of admissions at Bates. Other educators agree.

In Spokane, Wash., Gonzaga University couldn't find enough beds on campus for its 970 incoming freshmen this fall, so it arranged for 80 first- and second-year students to live at The River Inn, a hotel next to campus.

"For us this really is a first," said Phil Ballinger, dean of admissions.

George Washington University leased an entire hotel in downtown Washington, to house its overflow students; the University of Arizona has converted study lounges into bedrooms.

At Dartmouth, 51.7 percent of accepted students enrolled compared to 49.7 percent last year and 48.2 percent five years ago. Next year, Dartmouth probably will count on a higher number of students accepting admission, said Karl Furstenberg, dean of admissions and financial aid.

"We are very heartened by the fact that Dartmouth is so popular among top high school students," Furstenberg said.

While colleges have been building more dormitories for two decades (six modular units have been constructed at Dartmouth), officials admit the demand has outpaced supply in places.

More in some areas

Gary Schwarzmueller, executive director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers, said the enrollment surge is strongest in the South, New England and parts of the West.

"Having waiting lists and insufficient capacity is not new. I think what is new is it's particularly intense in a few areas right now," he said.

Bramante, an 18-year-old from Cleveland, will split the next year between working at a group home for mentally handicapped adults and hiking the Appalachian Trail. He also hopes to earn enough to help offset his hefty tuition bill next year.

"They encouraged us to take a year off and made it easy, so I decided to take it," Bramante said. "It all kind of worked out."

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