This Fall, Students Find Cramped Quarters on Campuses

Free maid service beats three bunks to a room

For Boston University freshmen Laura Drossman and Adriann Diers, campus living is a lot better than they expected.

No running down the hall from the shower wrapped only in a towel: The two have their own private bath. They have yet to make their beds - the maid does that. Cable television and HBO are standard. And if they feel like a swim, the heated pool is never crowded.

Sound more like a hotel than a dorm? It is.

Boston University, like many colleges in New England's Ivy-League belt, has found itself this fall with too many students and not enough beds. The school's solution: House the overflow at nearby hotels and rent space at a neighboring college.

Such arrangements may be fine with students, but with room rates running upward of $4,000 a year at some colleges, parents may be wondering if they're getting their money's worth or if academic performance is affected by 24-hour access to HBO.

Not since the early 1980s have colleges here and across the country seen their campuses so bulging at the seams. Larger freshmen classes, higher student demand for on-campus housing, and schools' inability to predict the number of accepted freshmen who will actually enroll have contributed to the housing crunch.

Now, as then, universities are converting double-occupancy rooms into triples, turning game rooms into suites, or checking students into a local hotel or YMCA. Boston University, for example, put 334 freshmen at two Howard Johnsons and 224 in dorms borrowed from Emmanuel College.

"It may not have a dining service, but the room service is great," jokes Ms. Drossman, as she tacks up a poster of Tom Cruise.

Most college housing directors say it's debatable whether students suffer academically because of make-do arrangements.

"We've tried all those things. All of it was awful," says Gary Schwarzmueller, who for 20 years was housing director at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Students in triples are unhappy, he says, and those living off campus in a motel "psychologically think it is on the moon."

Still, he's found that while satisfaction levels may drop when students are packed in like sardines, their academic performance generally remains steady.

"But that's not something you can sell," quips Mr. Schwarzmueller, now executive director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International in Columbus, Ohio. "Expectations are much higher than they used to be."

In New England alone, Brown University, Wellesley College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston College are all reporting crowded housing. Elsewhere, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., had to refer some students to fraternities to contend with the overflow. Georgia Tech, which converted part of the Olympic Village into student housing, had no trouble filling its 2,800 new beds this fall.

Why the surging demand for housing? For one, enrollments are rising at some schools, in part because there are now more college-age students. Universities have spruced up their accommodations, too, so more students are opting to live on campus. Increasingly, dorms are wired for the Internet, and many have cable hookup and digital voicemail. Some schools will even match roommates on the basis of study habits or room-tidiness.

But a bigger reason is colleges' difficulty anticipating how many of the students they accepted will actually enroll. Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., was planning for an entering class of about 510, but 600 accepted its offer of admission.

Often, schools can solve the problem within two weeks, after making adjustments for no-shows. But many colleges this year are looking for longer-term solutions. The University of Delaware in Newark turned 151 doubles into triples by adding a bunk bed and an extra desk to each. It also converted 10 lounges into triples. For the inconvenience, each student receives an $18-a-week rebate. Still, it expects that half of those students will be in permanent housing by the end of the first semester, says Linda Carey, manager of housing services. Come spring, she says, normal attrition will even create some vacancies.

Boston University, too, knew it wasn't going to get any breathing room until next semester. Enter Howard Johnson's.

In some ways, this eight-story building doubles well as a college dorm. BU bulletin boards adorn the hallways. Resident assistants and a resident counselor occupy each floor. But because HoJo's still rents out a few rooms, rules are strictly enforced. No loitering in the halls. No loud music. No hanging things on doors.

For roommates Drossman and Ms. Diers, the only complaints are that the maid wakes them up Saturday mornings and that the ration of women to men is 10 to 1. Still, they'll be sad to leave at semester's end. "I would love to stay here all year if the housing department lets me," Drossman says.

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