Retention rate shrinks living space

By Meagan Ramsay

As school resumed, a high retention rate for students living on campus generated Olivet’s own version of the housing crisis.

Administrators resorted to “flex housing,” to deal with the inflated enrollment, a decision that has only been necessary twice in Olivet’s recent history.

“We’ve done that in years past, so it’s not anything new,” said Donna McAllister, Assistant Dean of Residential Life. “I would say probably at least twice in my 10 years. This may be our third time.”

It might appear the large freshmen class is to blame for the housing dilemma, but McAllister explained that is not the root of the problem.

“Retention is up – that means students are returning. Connect that with a large freshman class, and that’s where you run into complications with housing.”

Just under 700 residential freshmen arrived on campus at the start of the semester, which is actually a number less than anticipated, according to Director of Admissions Susan Wolff.

“We expect to bring in between 700 and 750 freshmen [annually], and we are at the low end of that number this year,” Wolff said. “So we really do have a cap. Much of the housing tensions came from an increased retention rate.”

Numerous adjustments were made to ease those tensions. McClain Hall normally houses female upperclassmen, transfers and a few freshmen. This year, because of the high retention rate, the building was needed entirely for female upperclassmen. So female transfer students are now housed on the first floor of Nesbitt Hall, traditionally a dorm solely for men. Male upperclassmen are living on the second floor and the top two floors are occupied by male freshmen.

The females in Nesbitt access their rooms through the first floor entrance, according to Brittany Main, who is a sophomore transfer student living there. The males’ keys do not admit them onto the first floor and the stairwell entrance is alarmed to further deter their entrance.

Main is not bothered by her untraditional living assignment.

“I [am] closer to food and the library, so no complaints there,” she said. “My mom didn’t particularly care for it, but she trusts me and I trust Olivet. [They] had to do what they had to do.”

Without the option of accommodating overflow freshmen in McClain, which is typically where they are placed, the two female freshmen halls experienced some changes as well.

The community rooms situated in the center of each floor in Parrott Hall were altered to function as dorm rooms for the surplus of students. Eight girls are temporarily placed in these rooms until standard rooms become available.

“They sent out an e-mail and said they were going to put us in temporary housing. We didn’t know what our room was going to look like,” said freshman Danielle Branham. “It used to be an old study hall so they took out all the couches and stuff and gave us desks, dressers and beds.”

The displaced girls were told their temporary housing would last up to a day, a week, or even the entire semester. But some girls said, if given the choice, they plan to remain in their temporary rooms.

“I like it better than a normal room. It’s bigger, more space. I would prefer to stay here,” said Branham’s roommate Lexi Wilke.

While Wilke said she was notified of her housing situation a month before arriving at school, Thelma Torres did not receive a room assignment until just a week before move-in day.

“I kept calling and they said ‘we’re still doing the process,’” she said. “But I understand there are so many girls and that there isn’t room … I think it’s nice that they still try to find us a room.”

In addition to temporary housing, resident assistants in both Parrott and Williams Halls were required to share rooms to provide more dorms for freshmen.

Williams resident assistant (RA) Hannah June was initially worried about living with someone else, because private rooms are a key component of being an RA and being able to talk inconspicuously with individuals living on the floor. But McAllister showed no sign of uneasiness in the decision.

“Our hope is that if rooms become available, the RAs will be able to separate … I’m confident that our RAs that are rooming together will navigate this situation very well,” McAllister said.

With two full weeks of school under her belt, June has not run into any problems sharing a room with another RA.

“I’m pleased with how things have worked out. Our ministry means the world to both of us so that helps a lot,” she said.
The apartments were not immune to changes made this year. Some female sophomores on the waiting list for McClain were given the option to live in open apartments in Oaks, said McAllister. Upperclassmen that qualified for honors housing decided to take other apartments.

Although the housing crisis may seem problematic, Wolff said it is a good problem to have.

“We wouldn’t want to have empty dorms [because] that impacts the campus energy and lack of funds to produce incredible opportunities for [students],” Wolff said. “Trust me, other schools are struggling in their recruitment and it hinders the life of the institution.”

Students such as Torres just want to be part of the Olivet community and that “campus energy,” with or without a room.

“As long as I have somewhere to stay,” Torres said.

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