Morgan students outnumber dorm rooms

The Baltimore Sun

For the second time in three years, scores of students have arrived at Morgan State University for the new school year only to find that the college has no housing for them.

As classes began yesterday, the university was paying for 65 students to temporarily stay in hotels, said Morgan spokesman Clinton Coleman. Other students were squatting with upperclassmen or staying with relatives who live nearby. Some told of sleeping in cars.

About 130 students lack permanent housing, Coleman said. He said the university would probably squeeze in more students per room in order to find places for everyone.

This year's housing crisis could be worse than the one in 2004, when the university had to convert dormitory lounge areas into makeshift bedrooms, he said.

"But this is not a problem," Coleman said. "It's a good thing. Morgan has record enrollment."

Not all students shared the upbeat view.

"They're lucky this is America," said senior Darlington Mochaa-Uchefuna, 23, a native of Uganda. "If this was Africa, there would be rioting in the streets, for real."

Mochaa-Uchefuna was among a crush of students and family members who crowded the college's Office of Residence Life yesterday morning, trying to claim the housing that the college had assured him would be available.

But as on Friday when he first showed up, Mochaa-Uchefuna was told that his room in the university-leased Northwood Apartments was not ready. "I'm depressed. More than angry," Mochaa-Uchefuna said. "I told them if there was any way I could file a lawsuit, I would."

When residence life director Douglas Gwynn emerged from his office about 9 a.m., he found himself surrounded by upset students and their relatives, some of whom had been waiting for hours after making long drives in cars packed with luggage.

He tried to assure the crowd that by the end of the week, there would be enough housing for all students who made reservations over the summer.

More units were becoming available daily in the Northwood Apartments, he said, and some dormitory housing was expected to open up as some returning students made other arrangements.

In the meantime, he had a request. "Those of you who are from Maryland or near here, I need you to make the commute for a couple of days, until we get our other facilities up and running." The rest, he said, needed to wait until 5 p.m.

Dominique Wright, 21, pulled the hood on her sweatshirt lower over her eyes and settled in for the wait. At 4 a.m., the third-year biology major, her mother and two siblings had set out for Baltimore from northern New Jersey.

Four hours later, they arrived at Blount Towers, the on-campus dormitory were Wright had been assigned a room. She was told there was no room for her there, so instead of going to class, she went to the residence life office.

"It gets worse every year," Wright said. In her freshman year, she said, she didn't get a room assignment until 2 in the morning, after waiting all day.

Morgan officials said the housing problems are partly attributable to the difficulty in predicting student "yield," the percentage of who gain admission but elect to enroll elsewhere.

Inaccurate enrollment prediction is a growing problem at colleges nationwide, said David Hawkins, policy director the National Association for College Admission, which studies enrollment trends.

With more students applying to multiple colleges, yield has become an increasingly volatile number, Hawkins said.

Goucher College in Towson also had a higher yield than expected this year, but it made plans in early August to put its 52 extra students in hotel rooms and off-campus apartments.

In addition to the number of new students, Morgan underestimated the number of returning students, Coleman said. The college had expected more to drop out or take a leave of absence.

Finally, there was an increase in "walk-up traffic" this year, said Coleman, meaning some admitted students who showed up for school had not previously indicated their intention to come to Morgan.

"We had 1,451 freshmen confirmed; 1,578 showed up," Coleman said. "We have 318 confirmed transfers; 400 showed up." The college was hoping for a freshman class of 1,200, Coleman said.

Rather than turn students away, the college tried to accommodate them all, Coleman said, because of its mission as a traditionally black college serving historically disadvantaged students.

"For the average young African-American student," Coleman said, "if you turn them away at this point and send them back home, many of them will not re-enroll."

That might have been a mistake, he said. "In trying to accommodate this unusually large class, the university may in fact have greatly inconvenienced those students who did what they were supposed to do" and register for housing, he said.

Yesterday, one of those students was still girding for a fight. Dominique Wright said she would refuse to be assigned a room in the Northwood Apartments, an off-campus building in a neighborhood whose reputation for crime has not recovered since a Morgan junior was shot to death nearby in 1999.

"Forget about it," said Wright, who said that it costs her $20,000 to attend Morgan. "I'm not staying there so I can get shot, robbed, raped and murdered."

Gwynn said that security at Northwood would be increased this year.

Like Wright, Mochaa-Uchefuna said that chronic housing problems and other bureaucratic hassles have so soured his Morgan experience that he regretted coming to the college, even though he has a full academic scholarship that includes room and board, and money for textbooks.

"The academics are very good," said Mochaa-Uchefuna. "There are highly qualified professors. But in terms of administration, they don't care about student welfare. People talk to you as if you are an object."

Some people were more willing to give the college the benefit of the doubt.

Hattie Johnson of Washington stood in the housing registration line yesterday while her grandson, a junior, attended his first day of classes. It was Johnson's third trip to the residential life office in as many days.

"Management right now is not getting an 'A,'" she said, chuckling. "But I like Morgan. If we had to choose it over again, I probably would say Morgan."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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