Far fewer students are living on-campus housing this semester, and Central Michigan University officials are convinced that is a good thing.
About 10 percent fewer students, 5,330 this semester compared to 5,926 last year, are living in residence halls as a direct result of a projected 5 to 7-percent drop in on-campus undergraduate enrollment. That means 596 fewer students paying for room and board and meal plans.
Several of the Towers residential halls experienced drastic drops in residents, including Wheeler Hall (down 110 students from last year), Cobb Hall (down 70 students) and Carey Hall (down 82 students). Only three students are living in many Towers rooms, a far cry from the four or even five roommates new freshmen had to experience in years past.
And CMU says it likes it that way.
“Obviously we have space, our numbers are down from last year,” Executive Director of Campus Life Shaun Holtgreive said. “But one of the benefits of this is we’ve always had a goal of reducing the number of students who live in the Towers rooms from four students to three down to two, and this year we were able to get those rooms down to three.”
Other residence halls that experienced significant declines included Barnes Hall (down 54 students), Calkins Hall (down 52 students) and Robinson Hall (down 61 students). Seventeen of CMU’s 22 residence halls have fewer students than last year, and the five that hold more students (Beddow, Campbell, Celani, Fabiano and Kesseler halls) have a combined total of just 42 more students.
With a smaller incoming freshman class, on-campus housing has adjusted to give students more space.
Ironically, this is something that Holtgreive and his staff have been striving for and has been made much easier to realize with lower enrollment numbers. Holtgreive says fewer students better suits the size of the rooms, especially in the Towers.
“Our goal was to fill as many of the rooms with a two bedroom divided by a common area as possible before adding a fourth in the Towers,” Holtgreive said. “We were able to keep that fourth bed empty, excluding where people specifically requested to live with three others.”
In anticipation of the lower enrollment, a software block was placed in May that prevented students from signing up for the fourth bed in the Towers.
The highest concentration of vacancies are in original Towers buildings, Cobb, Carey and Troutman halls. This was done to give students more space. This has a number of consequences, many of which are seen as benefits.
“We haven’t waited to make adjustments until there is a crisis, and I don’t think there is a crisis,” Holtgreive said. “We’ve been this small before as an institution, and its strictly based on the number of students available.”
Food consumption in the dining halls will go down, subsequently lowering what the university spends on food. These orders are placed on a weekly basis, allowing the order to be as efficient as possible.
Also affected are the end-of-year repairs that are paid for with surplus income. These projects range from replacing carpeting, lobby furniture and paint, and other repairs.
“The years where we have a lower occupancy, the list of things we have to do is smaller and that means less spending,” Holtgreive said. “The blessing in this whole thing is we’ve been able to do what we have been trying to do for years. That’s the silver lining in this thing and we know that it will make a difference for the quality of the on-campus experience.”
Maintaining a quality campus experience is important for keeping students in residence halls, Holtgreive said, saying students who stay on campus graduate at a higher rate and are more likely to be retained by the university throughout their career.
“With the size of the freshman class we had last year, I would have thought that the returning students would be around 1,870, and we’re at 2,100,” Holtgreive said. “That’s good that they are choosing to stay on campus.”
University Editor Kyle Kaminski and Managing Editor John Irwin contributed to this post.