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Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald , Published May 13 2012

‘Apartment-style’ living on campus coveted by today’s young adults

CROOKSTON – Rising demand for student housing options that offer more privacy than traditional dormitories has launched a $9.8 million project at the University of Minnesota-Crookston and prompted the University of North Dakota to consider its own housing project.

For UMC, this is the third such project in the past seven years.

Gary Willhite, director of residential life, said the latest housing concept is “suite-style,” a hybrid of traditional dorms and the previous two projects, which featured “apartment-style” living.

It is much-needed as UMC’s degree-seeking enrollment has grown by about 500 over the past six years to the current 1,600.

UND has also seen enrollment growth in recent years and also has a shortage of on-campus housing. If the university builds, it won’t be in a dormitory either, said Judy Sargent, director of residence services.

Students arrive on campus with a living experience far different than previous generations, Sargent said.

“They probably haven’t shared a bedroom with two siblings, so they’re used to more privacy,” she said. “There’s also a need in today’s society for more quiet, reflective time, to gather thoughts, study and prepare for the next day’s challenge. They’ve had more independent living in their own home and they have more belongings.

“Living on campus for a while is a bridge to their independence.”

The new UMC residence hall, to be completed by December, will house about 150, compared with 250 in the two apartment models and 350 in the two traditional dorms.

“With a smaller footprint, we’re able to build more suites for more students for the same amount of money,” Willhite said.

Each four-student suite in the new hybrid residence hall will have two bedrooms, a small living room and one bathroom. An apartment-style residence hall would also include a kitchen, a second bathroom and a larger living room in each unit.

“We have more returning students wanting to live on campus than ever before,” said UMC spokesman Andrew Svec. “It’s the largest number of juniors and seniors ever who want to live on campus.”

The big reason is that the newer housing more closely meets students’ preferences, according to Svec. The coveted apartment spots are determined by a point system based mostly on seniority. The suites will go mostly to freshmen, who are required to be on a meal plan.

But another reason is that “there are not tons of options off-campus,” Svec said.

“There’s nothing in the city of Crookston that will compare to this,” Willhite said. “We’ve had people want to go to school here, but couldn’t find a place to live. We were losing students because of it.”

The city’s rental shortage forced UMC to seek other housing options, such as renting motel space.

“We haven’t been able to offer single rooms to students in about 10 years,” Willhite said.

The 750 students living on campus will be roughly half of its enrolled degree-seekers.

Room rates, not tax dollars, pay for UMC residence hall construction. The university recently paid off the loan on Skyberg Hall, a 40-year-old dorm that houses 200 students.

UND has also seen more demand for on-campus housing, but students say they want to live in apartment-style residence halls, Sargent said. “When students first come here, they like the idea of having a roommate because they haven’t had one before and that’s part of the college experience. But after trying that for a semester, they want to have more space.”

The UND campus’ last housing addition was in 2007, when it opened University Village, an apartment-style building that is home to 275 students. UND leases another 800 traditional apartments to families and groups of students on the western edge of campus.

Unlike Crookston, Grand Forks has enough privately-owned rentals to handle the demand.

Sargent said UND is not losing potential students because of its limited housing options on campus.

But she said the “common wisdom” is to have 40 to 60 percent of students living on campus. About 4,500 UND students live on campus, which is less than one-third of its 14,000 students.

Ryan Bakken writes for the Grand Forks Herald