This summer, administrators leapt into an eleventh-hour expansion of undergraduate housing after it became apparent that the existing facilities could not accommodate the large incoming first-year class.
An entire floor of the New Graduate Residence Hall (NGRH), normally reserved for graduate students, was co-opted for undergraduate use as the new Midway House when Director of University Housing Katie Callow-Wright, joined by other high-ranking administrators like Dean of Students Kim Goff-Crews and Dean of the College Susan Art, realized in early July that the class of 2015 simply would not fit into last year’s residential housing system.
“The incoming class was not happening in the same way we expected,” Callow-Wright said, calling that moment of realization “the melt.”
“We were housing students who we didn’t expect to have,” she said. “At the time, [the NGRH] had capacity…to make up pretty much what we needed.”
The “melt” moment was the just the latest anecdote in an ongoing saga that has placed the University among the most applied-to (and rejected-from) colleges in America. Applications for the class of 2015 numbered at 21,669—a 12 percent hike from the previous year—and the acceptance rate has been steadily dropping for years now, down to 15.8 percent for the class of 2015 from 34.9 for the class of 2011.
To manage matriculation, colleges routinely accept more students than they expect will attend. Nonetheless, administrators in the Office of Undergraduate Housing (OUH) were caught off guard by the sheer number of students who took the University up on its offer.
“As you may know, the college has been a very popular place,” Callow-Wright said, maintaining that the Office of Admissions had no intention of boosting the class’s size. “That’s a good problem to have.”
The need for more housing arose even as the University decided to expand upon last year’s pilot program in International House, usually available only for transfer students, where upperclass students were given the opportunity to live in a dorm that was similar to the typical campus experience, but without RAs or house lounges. The OUH decided to turn that experiment into the fully-fledged Phoenix House this year, which houses roughly 70 students, of whom fewer than half are now transfer students.
Currently, the undergraduate housing system is virtually packed to capacity. Still, Callow-Wright, who has been I-House’s interim director since October 2010, deemed the sudden but necessary move into the NGRH to be an anomaly. While the pilot program that spawned Phoenix House was a success, she said that there are no plans to repeat the process elsewhere.
“Is [Phoenix House] the only model? No,” she said. “We don’t expect the incoming class [of 2016] to be as big as the last one.”
She also denied that any new residence halls or dorms are planned for construction in the near future.
Midway House, formerly known as the first floor of NGRH, can house 125 students and comes with all the perks and amenities of a facility designed for graduate students—including paid parking, an exercise room, and a media room. Like all other undergraduate houses, it participated fully in Orientation festivities and has its own RAs, RHs, and, presumably, o-mances.