GVSU freshmen overflow into apartments

Lizzy Balboa

Depending on the business, full occupancy is not always ideal. The fewer beds taken in a Spectrum Health, the better. But for Grand Valley State University, full occupancy means growth, and growth is always welcome.

This year, GVSU has so many first-year students that they’ve overflowed from traditional freshmen housing into places they might not usually go, like South Apartments, Laker Village and the Ravines.

Dean of Students Bart Merkle mentioned a number of factors “putting some pressure on the housing situation,” including an increase in first-year students, a greater general interest in people living on campus and a greater number of students coming from the east side of Michigan and out of state who need housing.

Merkle said GVSU has typically seen about 82 to 83 percent of first-year students living on campus, but this year about 84 percent or higher have opted for on-campus living.

Director of Housing and Residence Andy Beachnau added that he has seen increasing trends in athletes, foreign students and people opting for learning communities on campus, which have each contributed to the overflow of students in on-campus facilities and the displacement of freshmen to nontraditional housing.

However, Beachnau said those freshmen were not forced into undesirable conditions, and many chose to live in apartments rather than traditional dorms due to their lower costs and convenience.

“We didn’t make anybody live anywhere they didn’t want to so it was really style preference and availability that drove some of the decisions,” he said.

GVSU offers freshmen apartment-style living if the arrangements are still available after upperclassmen finish choosing.

All freshmen who want to live on campus and apply to GVSU before May 1 are guaranteed on-campus housing, though. Those applying after the deadline are provided whatever beds are still available, which may mean a last-resort of apartment-style living.

The freshmen in apartments are not left to fend for themselves, though. Beachnau said they are placed with and near other freshmen, and that Housing and Residence Life is still working to incorporate those students into the university lifestyle.

“Our [residents’ assistants] are partnering with transitions leaders, we know where the first-year students are, we’ll find them and start them with transitions,” he said.

Nevertheless, university administrators are working on a plan to ensure available on-campus housing for future freshmen.

Merkle said the staff of Housing and Residence Life typically meets with representatives from the Admissions Office in the fall to discuss enrollment for the following year and identify the number of first-year beds that need to be reserved. The residual beds are then offered to non-freshmen until all beds are full.

“We’ll do that again in the fall and we may need to adjust the number of first year beds that we hold and if we have to do that I will make that adjustment, which unfortunately means that then we have fewer beds for sophomores, juniors and seniors, and so that’s why as we look at all these numbers we constantly try to figure out ‘what is the right size for our housing system to be?’” Merkle said. “We’ve got a lot of housing along the perimeter and there’s kind of a balance you want to have so you don’t end up with a total number of beds available to students that is way higher than what the enrollment is. That doesn’t serve anybody well. But you also want to be certain you have enough. So that’s our challenge.”

The dean said the staff tries to give a little flexibility in the system to accommodate room changes and roommate problems that might arise, but this year saw much less flexibility than usual. The rise in demand may even necessitate additional housing.

As for a solution to the housing needs, Beachnau suggested three options: adding new beds, fixing existing facilities or tearing down and retiring units that may no longer be popular with students.
Merkle added that university administrators are developing a ten-year plan for renovation of housing facilities.

“It’s a good problem to have in many respects but on the other hand you want to ensure students are having a good experience,” he said. “Our goal always is to try to accommodate the students who want to live on campus and try to help them have the best experience they can possibly have.”

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