With dorm space tight, University of Maryland forced to turn lounges into rooms and add extra roommates

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

When University of Maryland freshmen begin filling their cars with belongings to cram into their new dorm rooms in College Park this week, they might want to reconsider and pack light.

That’s because dozens will find they have not just one, but two or three roommates this year, after a larger-than-expected number of students accepted a place at the university last spring.

The university was able to squeeze 350 additional students into campus housing by adding another bed to double and triple rooms, and by converting dormitory lounges into dorm rooms.

"As a result of UMD's targeted recruitment efforts and the strength of the Maryland brand, this year we've experienced a higher than expected confirmation rate for our incoming class," said Jessica Jennings, a University of Maryland spokeswoman, in an email.

The dorm shortage is playing out at other area universities as well, including Morgan State and Towson, which also expect one of their largest incoming freshman classes.

At College Park, the Office of Resident Life had gone so far as to offer a $750 incentive to upperclassmen who would agree to give up their dorm room and move off campus in order to free up space. But only 19 students accepted the offer to cancel their housing.

Jennings said the Department of Resident Life converted dorm lounges to rooms for four students that lock and are equipped with the same furniture as other dorm rooms.

The university did find housing for all the students who signed up by May 1 to live on campus this year, said Deborah Grandner, the school’s director of resident life. The university had promised to accommodate anyone who asked for housing by that deadline.

Another 130 students, however, who applied after the deadline are currently on a wait list and are getting help locating off-campus housing. The Off-Campus Housing Office and the Department of Resident Life held an off-campus housing fair last month, which offered students a chance to meet different apartment managers and private landlords with space, as well as find potential roommates.

Students said it is too early to tell whether the incoming class will find the rooms too tight.

“I think that there is some concern going into it. But our resident students have not moved back in yet, so they can’t judge until they have experienced it,” said Brian Gallion, a senior and president of the Residence Hall Association, a body that represents the interests of students living on campus.

Gallion has seen the converted rooms and said they are a “little more cramped.”

“It is a non-traditional living arrangement, but not the worst possible situation,” he said, adding that he personally did not find the rooms too small.

Doron Tadmor, the chief of staff of the University of Maryland Student Government Association, said he believes there needs to be better communication between the admissions office and the Department of Resident Life so that the university isn’t scrambling to find dorm space at the last minute.

“It is the second year in a row this has happened,” he said.

When students apply to the university, they generally assume they will have a place in a dorm the first year, rather than believing they need to start looking for housing, Tadmor said.

While campus housing may be tight, enough apartment housing exists within walking distance of campus, and buses are convenient, Tadmor said.

At Morgan State, a large class of incoming freshman created an “overwhelming demand for on-campus housing” that has been a challenge, said Larry Jones, a spokesman for the university.

Morgan has taken similar steps to create more spaces in dorms for its 1,300 entering students. It turned double rooms into triples in one of its female residence halls, creating 70 additional beds. It also leased 220 more beds at the Marble Hall Gardens apartments for returning students, and added another 69 beds at other apartments for students on a waiting list, according to Jones.

Morgan officials even reserved 35 rooms at the Radisson Hotel Cross Keys, about four miles from the campus, to provide temporary housing.

“The university is also finalizing an expanded transportation service to assist students living off-campus at these locations,” Jones said.

Towson University, which has grown quickly in the past decade to 22,300 students this fall, including more than 19,000 undergraduates, has experienced the same escalating need for more on-campus housing.

Sean Welsh, acting senior director of communications, said this fall the school has “the largest incoming class we have ever had at the university.”

“We have been growing steadily through the last few years. You can imagine the challenge that presents for student housing,” he said.

This week, the university will open the Residences at 10 West Burke Avenue, a former Marriott hotel that was converted to apartments for transfer students after a $2 million renovation. The university has more than 2,300 transfer students entering this fall. The university also opened a newly renovated dorm — The Residence Tower — after a two-year, $34 million facelift.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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