Make Room For Freshmen

September 1, 1997

Mark Miester

All universities would welcome a larger-than-expected freshman class, but when incoming freshmen outnumber your available beds, that's a problem. "It's my nightmare, but it's a great problem to have," laughs Yvette Jones, vice president for finance and operations. "It's a sign of the institution's success, and I think we've got it all worked out very well."

It wasn't easy. For the last three months, administrative staff members have been working overtime to liberate space, juggle beds, shift room assignments and identify temporary lodging in order to accommodate a freshman class that is as much as 100 students in excess of projections. The Office of Undergraduate Admission originally projected the freshman enrollment to be 1,325 students.

By June, that figure had already been exceeded. As of mid-August, said Jones, 1,477 freshmen had submitted contracts for on-campus housing. Compounding the housing shortage is the fact that more upperclassmen are choosing to live on campus, limiting the number of available rooms that can be reallocated to freshmen. As the result of an overflow last year, 14 freshmen were housed at Loyola University. Jones, however, felt strongly that all freshmen should be housed on campus this year.

"We didn't want to do anything temporary with the freshmen," Jones says. "We're shifting around some room assignments so that dorms that may have traditionally been upperclass dorms are going to be used for freshmen. All freshmen are going to be on campus."

Some upperclassmen, however, had to spend a week off campus while the new 248-bed residence hall on Warren Quad was completed. Those students assigned to the Warren Quad building were temporarily housed at the Hampton Inn-Garden District, located on St. Charles Avenue, about 20 blocks from campus. A shuttle service was provided to and from campus every 30 minutes. Students were also given storage space at Fogelmen Arena, as well as access to the faculty dining room in the University Center to use as a social or study space between classes.

To accommodate the incoming class, administrative staff members--including Jones; Elaine Dares, executive assistant to the provost; Anthony Lorino, senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer; Martha Sullivan, vice president for student affairs; Denise Taylor, associate dean of students for housing and residence life; and Richard Whiteside, dean of admission and enrollment management--were forced to improvise.

The first step was reclaiming for freshmen Monroe Hall's 11th and 12th floors, which were originally intended to be taken off-line this fall with the opening of the new building for upperclassmen on Warren Quad. Next, other residences traditionally allocated in whole or in part for upperclassmen--including Butler, Irby, New Doris, Phelps and Sharp--were allocated for freshmen. About 20 double rooms were "tripled up," and cancellations from upperclassmen who had previously signed up for campus housing enabled additional beds to be converted to freshman beds.

The final adjustment included moving 22 upperclass ROTC students to university-owned housing on the perimeter of campus, opening up still more beds. Students still without rooms were slated to be housed in eight guest suites located in Aron and Monroe buildings. Those students should be placed in permanent rooms once the admission office determines the summer "melt away," the number of September no-shows for the fall.

"From our past experience, the housing problem is really a temporary one until we see who actually shows up," Jones says, alluding to the natural attrition that occurs as registration approaches. "Then, in the first week of school, there will be some shifting back as we see who actually comes."

Whiteside attributes the large class size to a number of factors. "I think that Tulane has become a more attractive place for a lot of students," Whiteside says. "Our academic profile has improved, I think we're more widely known, and we've had some aggressive promotion of the institution to bring it to people's attention. I think that the articles that appeared last year in U.S. News & World Report ranking us fourth nationally in educational value contributed to our success. It's a lot of things operating together. It's not a single factor. When an institution improves, it improves on a broad base."

Whiteside adds that a national rise in the number of college-bound students also benefited Tulane. "There's an increase in the number of students going to college this year, and there will be each year until just after the turn of the century," Whiteside adds. "Primarily, students from Texas, Florida and California. Those are the areas where you're going to see large growth."

If enrollments continue to exceed projections, Jones says, Tulane might be looking at another housing crunch next year. Construction of the new residence hall on Willow Street, scheduled to begin in September and be completed by January 1999, should alleviate the shortage in future years with 333 additional beds. So while planning for an overflow meant some overtime and creative thinking, Whiteside summarizes the general feeling. "If you're going to have to have a problem of 75 students, I'd much prefer that we have 75 too many than 75 too few."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000