A rule that requires juniors to live on campus this year has Christopher Newport University doubling and tripling more dorm rooms to handle the influx of students.
The rule kicked in with this year's third-year students, who were told about it before they enrolled as freshmen in 2010. It's meant to help them enjoy a true residential liberal arts experience, university officials say.
The change meant there were more students than beds on campus. To fix that, workers carried extra bedding, desks and dressers into rooms so an extra person could squeeze in. CNU spent about $220,000 to convert rooms.
"We've tripled rooms every year, it's just a matter of how many," said Kevin Hughes, dean of students. CNU has had to overcrowd rooms for at least five or six years, he added.
Overall, the university doubled 74 rooms in upperclassmen apartments on east campus and tripled 173 freshmen rooms in York River, Santoro and Potomac River halls.
Tripled rooms include a bunk bed, a single bed, three desks and three wardrobes. The suite-style rooms adjoin a double room, with all five students sharing one bathroom.
Overcrowding in freshmen and junior dorm rooms should be eased when Rappahannock River Hall, an upperclassmen dorm, opens in fall 2013, officials say. There are no plans to eventually make seniors live on campus, Hughes said.
Stuents who live with their parents in Newport News or nearby localities are exempt from living on campus.
Juniors are disappointed that they're being placed in doubles and not getting a steeper discount on room fees, said Ryan Asalone, a constitutional studies major from Maine.
Instead of splitting the fee for a single or double room, students in doubled and tripled rooms will pay $1,000 less per year. Dorm room rates range from $6,358 to $8,658 at CNU. That doesn't include a $1,685 meal plan required for most students.
Asalone said he understands CNU's need to fill up rooms but that it "stinks" for students because they can't look for cheaper off-campus housing.
Most students who live off campus rent a room at University Suites in Port Warwick, he said, adding that he eventually did land a single room to himself on campus.
"As a junior you hope that by your third year in college you'll have your own room," he said. "But I guess people adjust and we're going to a great school, we can't ask for better."
CNU isn't alone in requiring some students to live on campus, although they must live there the longest. The College of William & Mary requires freshmen to live on campus. Hampton University has no residency requirements, a spokeswoman said.
Hughes said the on-campus requirement at CNU isn't a surprise. This year's juniors were told about it during application and acceptance cycle three years ago, and the admissions team talked about it on schools visits and at open houses, he said.
As upperclassmen signed contracts to live in campus housing, there was a noticeable effect at University Suites in Port Warwick, said manager Ashley Kelley.
"This year we did fill up slower than we did in the past," she said. "But we are completely occupied with all students. I'm not sure how (the new rule) will affect us in future years."
This year, many rooms were leased by transfer students who weren't able to get a room on campus, Kelley said. As a student-focused business, University Suites individually leases its 314 bedrooms. Students rent individual rooms in three- or four-bedroom townhouses.
The complex is "99 percent CNU students," Kelley said, adding that she hears students talking about the new housing rule every day.
Girls complain that they don't want to share a bathroom with three or four suite mates in campus housing, and others don't want to live on a dry campus.
"They have a very strict honor code, even if they're of age they're not allowed to drink in their rooms," Kelley said. "That's a huge complaint for the ones who are of age."
The new residency requirement won't translate to profit for CNU, which runs its residence halls with a goal of breaking even, said Cynthia Perry, the university's chief of staff.
For example, it will collect $2.8 million in revenue from Warwick River Hall, the new sophomore dorm opening this summer. Most of that will go right back into running the dorm, leaving CNU with about $5,000 in profit, she said.
This year's housing revenue is an estimated $22.1 million, or 17 percent of the university's total income. Room fees pay for expenses including utilities, hall directors and custodians, building equipment and debt payments on the building, Perry said.
CNU owes $110.9 million in state-issued bonds on its residence halls, she said.
"We're not here to make money on students or their families," Hughes said. "We're here to provide a rich educational experience. (Students) are paying what we need them to pay for us to run the facilities."
Freshmen move-in dates
Christopher Newport University: Aug. 18-19
Hampton University: Aug. 24-25
College of William & Mary: Aug. 24Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun