For years, students choosing to enroll at Goucher College have received a promise from the school's administration -- four years of on-campus housing, guaranteed.
But this month, as 160 sophomores and juniors were set to pick their dorm rooms for the fall, they unexpectedly learned they wouldn't be able to live on Goucher's Towson campus after all.
"A lot of people are very upset over this," said sophomore Lizy Hallacy. "They've been at Goucher for two years and have worked their way up the totem pole. They feel that it's unfair, especially since they pay so much to be here every year."
And, perhaps more frustrating to those denied on-campus housing for the fall, prospective students for next year are still being given the same on-campus guarantee.
Goucher officials acknowledge they haven't handled the housing process as smoothly as they had hoped. But they say that the alternative they're offering -- an apartment complex on the other side of Dulaney Valley Road -- is a reasonable compromise.
"I want to apologize for the lack of notice," Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar told students at a town hall meeting last week. "We only got word of [the situation] shortly before room draw began."
The housing crunch comes as the liberal arts college seeks to expand its student body. A strategic plan adopted in 2002 calls for an undergraduate student body of 1,500 for the fall, 11 percent more than were enrolled in fall 2005.
"If everything goes according to plan, it looks like we will meet that target," Ungar said of the 1,500 enrollment.
This isn't the first time Goucher has experienced a shortage of on-campus housing. In the fall of 2006, some students were temporarily housed in a nearby hotel when enough dorm rooms and apartments couldn't be found.
The college did open a new residence hall, called "the T," two years ago, providing space for 190 more students, according to Scott Eckhardt, Goucher's director of community living.
"We thought the T would hold us for a while," Ungar told students last week. "It turns out, it didn't."
Some students say they learned they wouldn't be receiving on-campus dorm rooms on April 18, just days before they were about to choose housing for the fall.
Other students say they hadn't heard about the housing shortage at all until they showed up to select their rooms.
"All of a sudden they started herding us into a room and told us there was a big problem," sophomore Becky Polinger said. "They said we have no room for you on campus."
Goucher administrators told the students they'll be living in the Quarter apartments, across from Goucher on Dulaney Valley Road. They will pay the same rates as those living in on-campus housing, and the college plans to provide both a shuttle and free parking for students living there.
The cost of attending Goucher will increase next year to $42,373, up 4.5 percent from the current academic year. The college will break even on the apartment arrangement, said Tom Phizacklea, Goucher's vice president for finance.
In recent years, the college has offered students off-campus apartments. But only students who applied to live in these apartments were housed there, because the college considered them to be off-campus.
When asked why prospective students are still being guaranteed four years of on-campus housing, Janice Heitsenrether, Goucher's senior assistant director of admissions, said: "Technically the college considers the Quarter on-campus housing, even though it's across the street."
The Quarter is still under construction and is scheduled to open in mid- to late August, when Goucher students come back from summer break. There is a small possibility that some of the students will have to live in a different apartment complex, the Dulaney Valley Apartments, until their new apartments are ready, college administrators said.
Goucher officials had hoped that a new overseas study requirement created last year would reduce some of the pressure.
But Ungar said it is hard to be precise about how many of the college's 1,234 beds will be occupied at a given time, because students have flexibility in how to satisfy the requirement. They are not told when to go abroad, and they're also permitted to opt for a three-week summer program overseas rather than an entire semester abroad.
While students are frustrated, many acknowledge that the situation is not dire. "We just need to keep it in a larger context," said senior Zeke Berzoff-Cohen, the student government president, referring to what he called the "real housing crisis" in New Orleans. "We're college students. We're fortunate to be at a place like Goucher."
Goucher officials say they will eventually build another residence hall, but they also must deal with older residence halls in need of repairs.
"I think we always knew there would be a housing crunch, but we didn't know to what extent it would be," Ungar said. "There's no question we can do a better job [in the future]."