UMaine makes it mandatory for freshmen who live more than 30 miles from the school to live on campus. Since the number of first-year students has been steadily increasing over the last few years through a concerted effort to stabilize the university’s financial troubles, less dorm space is available to the upperclassmen.
In the past, students who had completed the most credit hours got first pick from the remaining housing options after the freshmen had been placed. That meant seniors picked first, then juniors and then sophomores.
Now, in an attempt to keep more sophomores on campus, sophomores will have first pick of the remaining dorm rooms, then juniors and seniors.
“Initially I was shocked and angry because I didn’t plan on living off campus,” said sophomore Charlotte Roe, 20, of Bellport, N.Y. Students received an email on Feb. 18 alerting them of the change.
“I think it’s a disappointment having your college tell you you’re basically not welcome on campus anymore,” she said.
Next fall, about 240 more beds will be made available on campus to freshmen and sophomores. About 300 fewer beds will be offered to juniors and seniors, meaning more upperclassmen will live off campus. There will be fewer beds next year, because the university wants to avoid putting students in study lounges and assigning more to a room than that room was intended to hold, as they did this year, according to Daniel Sturrup, executive director of auxiliary services at UMaine.
Of the 11,202 students enrolled in the fall of 2013, 3,818 were housed on campus.
Increasing student enrollment has been an objective of UMaine president Paul Ferguson’s five-year plan for the university.
“The key to the success of Ensuring Financial Sustainability … has been the design and implementation of a vibrant, impactful student enrollment growth strategy by enhancing admission,” UMaine’s 2013 annual report said.
According to the report, the freshmen class increased from 1,809 in the fall of 2010 to 2,169 in the fall of 2013.
But total university enrollment dropped by 300 students during that time.
That’s where the effort to keep sophomores closer to campus comes in.
“The first two years of a residential college experience are critical to the academic success and social development of students,” said vice president for enrollment management, Jimmy Jung in an email. “Having freshmen and sophomores live on campus improves retention.”
“An apartment doesn’t have the resources to help a student as successfully as we can on campus,” Sturrup said. Those resources include easy access to the library, tutoring, counseling, school clubs and other services that are easier for students who live on campus to take advantage of, he said.
The idea of supporting sophomores in order to increase retainment at UMaine gained traction last week when U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud announced a plan to make sophomore year free for all Maine students enrolled in one of Maine’s public colleges.
Sturrup said there has been an increase in demand for on campus housing in recent years due to improvements to all the dorms. Access to WiFi, $25 credit toward laundry per semester, new mattresses and furniture and the removal of carpets, among other changes, have all made on-campus housing more attractive.
Fourth-year student Shawn Berry said it’s not really the increased amenities, but the convenience of living on campus that attracts students to the dorms.
“Living on campus definitely has its advantages in the wintertime with bad driving,” he said.
Room and board for undergraduates at UMaine is estimated to cost between $4,858 and $6,990 in the 2014-2015 school year, depending on the type of room a student lives in. This change in policy will not impact overall revenue for the university.
Sturrup said he has been fighting to increase the number of beds available on campus, though that decision will be up to the university system’s board of trustees. Meanwhile, members of the board were presented with a report this month that said the University of Maine System campuses are underutilizing space that already exists on each of the seven campuses.