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Room overcrowding lessens as O-week arrives

By Andrew Ligeralde     8/15/15 5:21am

A few returning students will have an extra roommate as a higher than expected number of students committed to Rice this fall. According to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, as of the beginning of August, 11 new students were scheduled to share rooms with upperclassmen in order to secure a spot on campus.

“We are seeking to provide incentives to upperclassmen to overcrowd their rooms, some financial incentives for them to do that to make spaces for new students,” Hutchinson said. “I would prefer not to overcrowd the rooms of new students since they don’t have a context for knowing what they’re volunteering for if they do that.”

Mark Ditman, associate vice president of Housing and Dining, said the incentives work in such a way to prevent students from taking advantage and overcrowding just to save on room and board.

“What we don’t want to do is incentivize people to overcrowd a room to save money,” Ditman said. We think that can have some bad consequences over time. So the idea was, you could overcrowd a room and everybody saved a little bit on their room rate as a result, but once a bed became available in the college, you had to unwind the overcrowd, and that person would go in the open bed. If they wanted to overcrowd instead of the open bed they could, but the financial incentive would terminate once a bed became open.”

According to Susann Glenn, communications manager for H&D, this system has existed since before 2000 and has been well received by students.

“We haven’t heard any pushback because we incentivize certain things for those who participated in that,” Glenn said. “So if anything, we received eagerness from those who have agreed to help us out. … This isn’t a decision that we make on our own as an administration. We need students, to make sure we’re serving [their] needs.”

According to Kelsey Nanneman, secretary of the Sid Richardson College Executive Council, the decision to overcrowd rooms was left completely up to the students living there.

“Our master required consent from … all people in [an] overcrowded suite before he gave his approval,” Nanneman, a senior, said. “Overcrowding was offered as an option to returning students on the waitlist before we knew what the new student situation was like. However, no full suites consented to the overcrowd and therefore none were approved by the master.”

Hutchinson said several factors are responsible for the limited room availability, including initiatives to house as many continuing students on campus as possible.

“We made some extra efforts this year to try to make sure that we didn’t enter the beginning of the year with surplus beds to accommodate as many students as possible,” Hutchinson said. “In some regards, those extra efforts have been more successful than we might have hoped.”

To maximize the number of students who can live on campus, H&D reached out to the students. According to Glenn, they surveyed to gauge student housing needs and responded accordingly.

“We did a comprehensive search to understand, ‘Where is every bed in every college?’,” Glenn said. “We’re also working closely with the college coordinators now, so we have a list of students who are on a waitlist at every college. … So when rooms become available, we can reach out to them to tell them they can live on campus.”

Ditman said these housing initiatives, in addition to giving more students the option to live on campus, have financial benefits.

“We’ve always been told a full college functions best,” Ditman said. “And we subscribe to that. One of the advantages of a full college is that it helps keep room and board rates low as possible. Some universities have struggled with vacancies in their dormitories and we’re really fortunate that’s not the case here.”

But these efforts to house more students on campus only account for a portion of the overcrowding. According to Hutchinson, the most important factor is what admissions refers to as a “melt” in the number of students committed to attending Rice. Melting occurs every summer for two reasons: new students who made their deposits but are not actually coming, as well as continuing students who decide during the summer that they will not return in the fall. This year, the melt was quite a bit smaller than it has been in previous years, according to Hutchinson.

“Students choosing to come to Rice are maybe a little bit more committed than they already were to actually showing up at Rice, actually following through and matriculating at Rice,” Hutchinson said.

Every year, the Office of Admission reports the final yield rate, which indicates how many people accept their admission to Rice and show up for Orientation Week. Hutchinson said due to the smaller melt, the yield rate is higher than in years past, which is important to consider when admitting new students.

“The enrollment group and [Vice President of Enrollment Chris Muñoz] have a model by which they make a prediction of the number of students that need to be admitted in order for us to yield the number of students who are our target,” Hutchinson said. “[This year] is an indication that Rice’s reputation is strong, that when people are admitted to Rice they’re excited about that, and they intend to attend. If that’s in fact what we observe, Muñoz will take that into account, in terms of the number of students we admit next year, once again to hit the same enrollment target.”

Hutchinson said while the issue of overcrowding requires attention, the increase in yield rate is a positive development.

“Having extra students here is a result of a bunch of good things happening simultaneously,” Hutchinson said. “More students who are able to come back, fewer students who decide not to come back, more students who want to be here. So this is all good stuff; if anything, maybe we did too good a job.”

Ditman said his office has taken steps to address overcrowding, and the magnitude of the issue has decreased as O-Week approaches. As of Aug. 10, the 11 students scheduled to overcrowd had melted to just three. But in the case the number does not go down, Hutchinson said Rice will be prepared to address the issue.

“My office keeps track of everything to see and make sure that all of the colleges are aware as vacancies appear, and we will make sure that we accommodate all of our new students,” Hutchinson said. “So nobody needs to worry about that. But in the short run, I understand that the uncertainty generates stress, but in the end the effect of that will be that we have more students living on campus, and therefore happier with their experiences.”

Edit: A previous version of this article opened with the statement that the administration, Office of Admissions, and H&D planned to overcrowd colleges in anticipation of higher yield.

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