Coed dorms still in, but with more privacy, quiet

Is college dormitory life gearing for a retreat to the tamer 1950s? College housing officials concede there are slight signs of a conservative trend -- but only in some areas.

Coed housing that blitzed the nation's campuses in the 1960s seems here to stay. Many campuses still have separate dormitories for men and women but report that coed housing is far more popular. Dr. David DeCoster, dean of students at the University of Nebraska and a man who periodically surveys campuses around the country for housing data, reports a particularly dramatic increase over the last 15 years in housing that offers separate floors for men and women.

But along with the increased freedom has come a greater demand for more privacy and quiet time, say campus housing officials. Michigan State University (MSU), which for sometime has offered certain floors with longer quiet hours to students who asked for them, has set aside for the first time this fall an entire dormitory geared to keeping strict quiet hours from early evening to late morning.

"We do a study every year of what students want, and we've noticed an increasing number say, 'It's too noisy to study,'" explains Robert Underwood, manager of the MSU Department of Residence Halls.

Most dorms on the MSU campus this fall also offer certain floors that bar visits from students of the opposite sex from midnight to 8 a.m. On most campuses 24-hour visitation is common and is usually the result of a democratic student vote.

"There is a slight trend toward providing a special living environment that stresses a quiet academic atmosphere," Dr. DeCoster says. "It reflects in a sense the seriousness and career orientation of students arriving on campus. It's a combination of what some researchers call a sense of 'me-ism' and a preoccupation with academic success."

But the experts caution that in no way is this gentle new trend a retreat to simpler, more rustic ways.

"Through the new students have more conservative values, they're well accustomed to the amenities, and they're not willing to turn the clock back," insists James Grubb, secretary of the Association of College and University Officers and director of resident halls at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "Most have been accustomed to having their own well-furnished rooms with telephones. . . . We find that whether or not a room has air conditioning tends to be more important to many of them than the campus policy on alcohol."

"I think we're seeing the pendulum swing back a little more to a conservative life style," Mr. Underwood agrees, "but I'm not sure that we'll really see it swing very far."

He notes that the expected general college enrollment decline should make it easier for many campuses to offer less crowded dormitory living that can be tailored more specifically to student demands.

Indeed, many campuses that once had to turn down requests for residence space are now launching aggressive campaigns to market their housing wares. Many are watching off-campus housing patterns closely to see if they can match the appeal. The cost of construction and high interest rates, however, will keep most campuses from offering apartment-type housing for undergraduates, which many prefer. But Mr. Underwood insists that most public university campuses, including his own, have two incomparable selling points: "Generally the price is better than apartment living, and you can't beat the convenience -- we're closer to everything."

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