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Res Life Faces New Problem: Major Dorm Vacancies

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With 42 empty beds, Dominican’s resident halls are rather quiet this semester. Most of these can be found in Coughlin, the Priory, and Centennial, said Amy McCormack, senior vice president of finance and administration at Dominican.

“We have 592 students in the halls now, plus 17 in the Bon Villa apartments,” said Rob Babcock, assistant dean of students and director of residence life. McCormack, however, said Dominican did not renew leases on off-campus housing and about 58 percent of freshmen have typically lived on campus, with a drop to 43 percent this year.

Ninety-two percent of the budget at Dominican comes from tuition, room and board. “There’s been about a $240,000 net loss,” McCormack said.

“There was a low percentage of freshmen that chose to live on campus,” she said. “The assumption is it’s cost-related or it could be that more students are living closer to campus.”

Iannis Ruiz, a junior who is living in Coughlin Hall this year, said she expected to be with a lot of freshmen, but found out that she was not the only upperclassman living in Coughlin Hall. “There are six or seven upperclassmen on Coughlin 3 alone,” she said.

Ruiz said resident students are always moving in and out of dorm rooms. “The room across the hall became occupied as of just a few weeks ago,” she said.

“We didn’t know at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year that there were going to be vacancies,” Babcock said. However, McCormack said they did. “In March, there were clear signs we wouldn’t have enough people; by the middle of the summer, we knew there would be empty beds. But it was even lower than we thought because there were more freshman who decided to commute.”

“Our lower numbers this year are not due to an increase in contract cancellations,” Babcock said. “There is no conclusive set of reasons for the lower number of applicants.”

Prices for room and board have increased 3.4 percent, according to Dick Walstra, controller for the University.  This is an increase of about $270 for some rooms, and it is more for higher priced rooms, he said.

“I think a lot of freshmen backed out because of increases in costs,” Ruiz said.

Peter Alonzi, Ph. D., an economics professor at Dominican, said President Donna Carroll made her annual state of the university presentation at the regularly scheduled University Assembly on Sept. 19. Carroll reported a revenue shortfall due in part to vacancies in the dorms. Alonzi said this shortfall means that there are fewer revenues the university has for all the resources it employs from landscaping services to staff and faculty. But there were no changes in faculty salaries at this time other than a few increases that had been deferred from February 2011 until now.

“You’re not going to find someone who says they don’t want a higher salary, but times are tough all around. We’re going through a time of crisis as a country,” Alonzi said. “The residence halls’ vacancy is what we have right now; it’s just important to make plans to make sure the this doesn’t happen again.”

According to Mickey Sweeney, a Dominican English professor, the cost of living increases 2 percent each year, and salaries for Dominican professors generally increase 2 to 3 percent each year. “When people budget for things and they can’t do it, it’s tough.”

Although this situation is problematic, there are some benefits.

“The number of vacancies does mean there is a little more flexibility in terms of people being able to switch rooms and things along those lines,” Babcock said.

Staff, faculty and administration are striving to sort out this problem for next year.

Babcock said Residence Life plans to house as many students as possible. “We are offering some of the empty double rooms to students if they would like to ‘buy out’ the double and live by themselves,” he said. “This is a unique opportunity we haven’t had because of the density of our past residential populations.”

“Only three of my seven very close friends still live on campus. Most have moved back home, while another got an apartment. I personally love my experience of residence life, and I tell my friends that,” Ruiz said.

Although students in the ELS program or graduate students could take the rooms, this solution isn’t perfect. Students in the ELS program usually only stay at Dominican for about four consecutive weeks, McCormack said, and graduate and undergraduate students are “not the best mix” because of their age difference.

“It does impact the ability to invest in new programs and faculty salaries because we needed to cut expenses,” McCormack said. “We have, however, added new revenue through new initiatives in GSLIS and new programs in continuing and professional studies…we’re trying to increase future enrollment.”

Mary Stroka, Editor-in-Chief

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