As Webster University aims to raise freshmen and transfer enrollment by 100 students by 2015, Housing and Residential Life is scrambling to house the incoming class of 2017.
As of the first day of the fall term, Director of Housing and Residential Life John Buck said Webster University had maximized every bed on-campus to house the incoming freshmen class.
“We’re housing more people on this campus than we ever have. We’ve maximized every bed space,” Buck said. “We had a number of late-applying new freshman and late-applying new transfers that were from out of state… so we had to scramble.”
Buck said out-of-state students take precedence over students who live in the St. Louis area, since local students have more off-campus options when it comes to living arrangements. He said the university e-mailed all returning residential hall students in May, offering a $500 incentive to break their housing contract with Webster to free up rooms for incoming freshmen.
“The wait list is around 100 people still. On that wait list is about 35 freshmen from St. Louis, and about 35 new transfers from St. Louis,” Buck said. “So 75 to 85 percent of the wait list are people from the St. Louis area.”
Buck said this year was unique because the list peaked at its highest ever in his 14 years at Webster. He said Housing and Residential Life could not find room for 138 students who applied for on-campus housing.
“I’ve been here for 14 years… Every year except for one we’ve had a waiting list for housing. So the phenomena of having demand exceed our supply is not new,” Buck said. “For the better part of a decade and a half, that’s the way it’s always been. We’ve never had enough housing to meet demand.”
The university is combatting the housing issue by moving undergraduate students into ‘temporary housing.’
Nine Students are housed at Chamberlain Manor Apartments in Webster Groves.
Two undergraduate students are housed in a Webster owned home on Catalina Avenue.
Buck said the university arranged a master lease with Chamberlain, enabling Webster to hold on to a set amount of apartments until March 31, 2014. Students living in Chamberlain through the university pay the rates set by the apartment complex and have utilities billed to their Webster student accounts.
Senior film production major Forest Wharton said he was assigned to Chamberlain after applying for on-campus housing and being put on the waitlist.
“I applied for on-campus housing. Unfortunately, it was after they placed everybody, so I got put on the waitlist,” Wharton said. “In late July I got an e-mail saying that all the spots were filled and they told me there were no openings.”
Wharton said he received an e-mail in August informing him the university had acquired apartments at Chamberlain for students to live in. He said he is currently in a nine-month lease at the complex.
In some cases university owned homes on Catalina are used as housing for employees. Buck said certain houses have been rented out by graduate students in the past, but never undergraduate students.
Buck said the two undergraduates living in the Catalina house will be there for a maximum of two weeks. He said it was a temporary but urgent
situation that led to arranging the housing.
“The two undergraduates on Catalina will be there for a maximum of only two weeks. Because it was a temporary, but urgent situation that led to arranging that assignment, we are using the University’s established housing rates for billing
Buck said university established housing rates were used for billing purposes but would be adjusted accordingly once the students on-campus housing arrangements were established.
The students were assigned residential advisers and Connection Leaders to assure a ‘smooth’ transition into college, Buck said.
The university has also housed 24 students in triple-room configurations in East Hall. The university had never used a triple-room configuration before this year.
Freshmen David Malone said he asked to be housed in West Hall but was moved into a triple configuration dorm in East Hall because of the large freshmen class. East Hall is traditionally upperclassman housing, while West Hall houses incoming freshmen.
“I kind of think it’s nonsense,” Malone said. “When they sent out the e-mail and you were one of the first people to do it (apply), you would automatically think you’d be put into West Hall first.”
Malone said he was upset to not be placed with his fellow freshmen.
“At first I felt like ‘why am I not with freshmen, why am I not in West,’ because that’s what I chose,” Malone said. “They ask you on the application, first, second and third what do you want to be put in. My first choice was West, my second was East and third was Maria.”
Malone said two in-state students and a third out-of-state student living in one dorm makes for a very cramped space.
“I have friends who stay in West. If, in East, there were only two people staying in a room, then that would be perfect. But with three people there is so much stuff,” Malone said.
Malone said he was surprised to learn he would be living with two roommates and seven suitemates. He said he was not expecting to be living in such ‘cramped’ conditions.
Master Plan and Restriction
In 2012 the university collaborated with a firm called Sasaki Associates to create a campus master plan. A feature of that plan was to hire a group based in Chicago called the Scion Group. The Scion Group designed campus housing plans for Webster that has been delayed by more pressing projects.
“They (Webster) engaged Scion to do a housing business master plan for campus housing that is a formal part of the overall master plan,” Buck said.
Buck said the university’s plan stretches out over a 15 year period. He said during that period the university will be short of housing for students.
“In terms of the overall plan for the university, this component of the master plan builds out a 15 year plan for residential housing. It has us getting to, in 15 years, around 1600 beds,” Buck said. “Right now our demand analysis from this company is that we are about 87 beds short from our current demand, that’s without stretch plans in effect.”
Buck said part of Webster’s Master Plan is to remove the Webster Village Apartments and build higher-density housing in the area. He said the university is currently working with the city on ‘more pressing’ issues such as the Eden Theological Seminary properties, the Interdisciplinary Sciences building and the garage expansion.
“There’s more people in these two buildings (East and West Hall) here than all of the village.” Buck said. “What we need to do now is find ways to actualize that plan.”
Buck said Webster will continue to lose students until the housing issue is resolved.
“We’ve lost students this year because they can’t live on campus. They chose to go somewhere else,” Buck said. “There’s not an easy answer here. If you’re going to focus on this, there’s going to be a lack of focus on something else. There’s a cost associated with that.”
Buck said housing is a key part of keeping the undergraduate enrollment growing.
“We’ll get there with housing, because I think people here broadly understand that housing is, part and parcel, a crucial bedrock, important for recruitment and retainment,” Buck said.