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CMC Housing Shortfall Less Than Expected

December 2, 2011

by Rachel Brody
CMC Housing Shortfall Less Than Expected

With an influx of returning students in the spring and not enough beds to accommodate their arrival, Claremont McKenna College finds itself in a housing crunch for the spring 2012 semester. The problem, however, may not be as dire as originally thought. According to Dean of Residential Life Eric Vos, the shortfall comes in at only 4 beds; rather, only four students are currently without housing. Last week, says Dean Eric, the number was at 5 after CMC conducted its housing lottery for returning students until one student decided to triple with friends instead. Though some expected the shortfall to be much greater, Dean Eric noted that the newest figure takes into account existing empty beds on campus and those willing to take up the offer to triple or move off campus. The number, however, does not account for those expected to leave campus on academic suspension.

In early November, news of the housing crisis caused a stir and frustrated many, including those on campus and abroad. Though aware of the underlying issues of the most current housing crunch, junior Sean McQueen “was definitely upset that enough housing on campus was not available for juniors coming back from abroad.” McQueen, who is currently participating in CMC’s Washington, DC program, has found housing via an on-campus senior but is concerned for those given less convenient living options. While there seems to be an implicit guarantee for housing all four years at CMC, Dean Eric reminded students at a recent November meeting of the Residential Life Committee that such a guarantee does not in fact exist in CMC's bylaws.

In an effort to accommodate those left in the lurch, CMC has been working with Pomona College to insure beds for those students unable to find housing on CMC’s campus. Hoping to keep CMC students close to home, Dean Eric attempted to secure beds in Pomona’s newest dorms, Sontag and Pomona Hall, located on the college's North Campus. The demand among Pomona students for living space in the new dorms, however, has only allowed for availability in Pomona’s Mudd-Blaisdell, a largely freshman dorm located on Pomona's South Campus and much removed from CMC. Thus far, CMC has secured six beds in three double rooms at Mudd-Blaisdell.

Until its room draw takes place today, Friday, December 2, Pomona cannot guarantee any more rooms for CMC students other than the original six. However, openings are likely after room draw, says Dean Eric, with potential for rooms in the newest North Campus dorms.

Dean Eric remains hopeful, and says he is “optimistic that everyone returning from abroad will get a bed at the Claremont Colleges.” Indeed, says Dean Eric, “the likelihood that additional openings at CMC will come up for the 4 students [without housing] is high.” Whether those openings on campus are favorable options or last resort attempts at housing remains to be seen. “They’ve all been given the opportunity and information to triple into double rooms,” says Dean Eric, “if they so choose.”

The lingering question remains on how to deal with those CMC students returning to campus in the spring but not from abroad. While transfer students can often account for the increase in housing needs, CMC will not admit any transfers next spring. However, each semester, CMC readmits a certain number of students on leave for suspension, academic probation, or an elected leave of absence. The 5 students who fall into this category next spring, says Dean Eric, are unlikely to get housing at the Claremont Colleges though the potential for space at Pomona seems promising. Unfortunately for the already fragile housing situation, the number of readmits could potentially increase, causing even more stress on campus resources.

To aid all students in securing spring housing, CMC has asked that students consider a triple bed option in rooms the administration will deem appropriate for tripling . In the November Residential Life Committee meeting, Dean Eric suggested, for example, that the especially large double rooms in Beckett Hall be used as triples next spring. Yet after speaking with the residents there, only one room agreed to convert their living space to a triple. Others living in large doubles elsewhere declined the offer to add a third roommate. While there is a slight financial incentive for tripling up ($410 according to the Dean of Students Office calculations), students have indicated that the incentive remains too low to encourage voluntary tripling and should be raised to account for the loss in space. Currently, 4 groups have agreed to the triple option with the possibility of a fifth triple room.

Students are also encouraged to look for housing off-campus. Thus far, 9 students have committed to living off-campus. Sixteen years ago, CMC offered financial incentives for students to move off-campus, but Dean Eric assures that, “we’re not there yet.”

McQueen says he doesn’t blame CMC’s administration for the housing crunch. “I felt like they handled the situation pretty well overall,” McQueen remarked, “Communication wasn't stellar, but I feel like [Dean] Vos pursued every option he could given the cards he was dealt.”

The root of the housing problem is indeed the result of a number of compounding factors. Most often cited is the disproportionate desire to go abroad in the fall semester versus the spring semester, which translates to a squeeze on bed availability for those returning in January. Kristen Mallory at the Office of Off-Campus Study is working to balance the numbers of students abroad despite the continuing demand to study abroad in the fall—an initial survey of those planning to study abroad in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 showed a discrepancy of about 100 students preferring fall to spring. Dean Eric assures that the imbalance has been taken care of. “After accounting for attrition rates, moving students from fall to spring, and late additions,” said Dean Eric, “the numbers have balanced out to reasonable levels.  At this point, there is nothing to worry about for next year’s off campus study students and their spring housing.”

Of course, there are other factors that enter the equation. The opportunity to apply for a Residential Assistant (RA) position is only available in the spring and requires all applicants to be on campus at the time of their application. Students often want to get involved with student government and run for ASCMC office, yet can only do so in the spring term. Additionally, certain required courses are offered spring term only and can deter students from choosing the spring option for their off-campus study experience. The desire to be involved in campus life creates hesitancy among those students thinking about a spring semester abroad.

CMC has taken steps to address the root cause of the problem, working with the Office of Off-Campus Study and the Dean of Students Office to better coordinate their student numbers for the fall and spring. In order to avoid a housing crunch where tripling in double rooms and housing on Pomona’s South Campus remain the most viable options, the administration will have to look more closely at their methods of estimation regarding students both on and off CMC's campus.

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