Big freshmen classes mean cramped quarters

Posted: August 23, 2014

Susan McHugh-Ringiewicz walked into the dorm room and sized it up: Three beds. Three desks. Three chairs. Two closets. Three girls.

"And a lot of stuff," said the respiratory therapist from West Chester, who was moving her daughter, Kerry, into the University of Delaware on Saturday.

Would everything fit?

"We're still trying to figure that out," she said.

With larger than expected freshmen classes, the University of Delaware in Newark and Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. are requiring more students than ever before to triple up in dorm rooms traditionally designed for two. That can make for a tight squeeze - and some parents and students are less than thrilled.

"We get push-back every year," said Kathleen G. Kerr, executive director of residence life and housing at the University of Delaware, which drew a third of its freshmen from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. "There is a natural concern."

The schools are giving room discounts, plying students with tips on storage, communication and coping techniques and assuring that many will be in doubles before the semester is out because of no-shows or drop-outs.

For decades, many colleges have converted double rooms to triples and lounges to suites when space was tight. Schools have rented hotel rooms while new dorms were being built. Some local universities, including Drexel in Philadelphia, continue to house a small percentage in triples, while others, such as Immaculata in Chester County, have done so in the past.

But at the growing University of Delaware, which was expecting about 3,800 freshmen and got a record 4,200, 30 percent of freshmen will dwell in threes.

"I was a little nervous, but I think it's a good idea," said Kerry McHugh-Ringiewicz, 18, an English major. "If there's three people that have to deal with each other rather than two, there's not as much bickering."

The first to arrive, she picked the single bed, which is lofted off the floor to provide storage underneath. Her roommate, Danielle Graziano, a physical therapy major from Long Island, came next and picked the bottom bunk. That left Brynn McMahon, 18, of Basking Ridge, N.J., on top.

"I'll get used to it," she said.

Her roommates gave her the only bureau in the room and took the two closets, but also allotted her space in the closets.

At Rowan, which also is growing, a record 75 percent of nearly 2,000 freshmen who applied for housing are in triples. Rowan will welcome its largest freshman class, 2,200, on Labor Day weekend.

Some students find the arrangement challenging.

A University of Maryland freshman from Plainsboro, N.J. last year posted a top-five tip list for living in a triple: Take the bottom bunk (to avoid climbing injuries). Get a fold-up laundry basket. Keep the room clean. Talk to your roommates. And use an air freshener.

"It's a lot of money to send your kid off to school, only to see something that's a little less than ideal," said a New Jersey mom who just moved her daughter into a triple at Goucher College in Towson, Md., where tuition, fees and room and board top $50,000 annually.

The woman, who asked not to be named because she feared it could affect her daughter's experience, said the room doesn't even have air conditioning.

At the University of Delaware, students said they were apprehensive but prepared to make the best of landing in a triple.

"Apparently, it raises your GPA scores," said Aaron Lankford, 19, of Philadelphia, noting what he read on the university's housing application.

Indeed, Kerr said a university analysis a few years ago showed better grades for students in triples.

But it wasn't the GPA pitch that sold Lankford, an environmental science major. He volunteered for a triple because the room is a little larger than those in some of the other dorms. Langford was one of about 60 students who volunteered; the other 1,100 or so in triples were selected by lottery.

The university, Kerr said, selected its largest rooms for triples.

Langford's roommate, Sean Duggan, didn't volunteer, but was fine with it.

"I don't fit anywhere," said the 6'6" marketing major from Acton, Mass., "so it's not much of a difference."

Kerr said 380 triple rooms is not ideal, though preferable to having freshman live off campus and miss the first-year residential experience.

In a typical year, 10 percent of freshmen are assigned to triples, and by the end of the year, all who wanted to be relocated to doubles usually have been, Kerr said.

But this year is far from typical. She isn't sure how many will be relocated.

Students get a weekly 15 percent room discount if they are in triples after Oct. 1 - by which time relocation is unlikely. Tuition, fees and room and board for out of state students runs $42,250.

"Would have made more sense if it was 33 percent off," Duggan quipped.

Rowan offered a $1,000 discount off the spring semester, free summer housing and free dining card dollars if students remain in triples into October, said spokesman Joe Cardona. Rowan got more volunteers than Delaware: About 1,200 of the 1,475 assigned triples, he said.

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