Published: Aug 01, 2009 02:00 AM
Modified: Jul 30, 2009 08:31 PM
This fall, 300 N.C. Central University students will likely spend at least one semester bunking down at the Millennium Hotel.
The move is due to an unanticipated enrollment crunch. Until recently, campus leaders expected about 1,100 new freshmen this fall; but new projections now call for about 1,500, creating some anxiety for residential life officials trying to pin down precisely how many will really show up.
"I hope it's just a semester, but I just don't know," said Jennifer Wilder, director of residential life. "With the economy the way it is, everything is up in the air. We're dealing with a lot of unknowns."
The Millennium Hotel, about a 10-minute drive from campus, was the low bidder for the university's business, offering to take in the students at a rate of $14 per bed per day. That means the university will pay the hotel about $588,000 to house the students this fall, Wilder said.
The deal must still be approved by the state property office, which negotiates such contracts on behalf of state agencies.
Students living at the hotel will not have maid service. A shuttle will bring them to and from campus, and the university expects to create residence life social programs for hotel residents just as it would for those living in on-campus residence halls, said Kevin Rome, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management.
Freshmen and sophomores will live on campus, while some percentage of upperclassmen requesting university housing will be moved to the hotel, Rome said.
"Most parents are more comfortable with their 18-year-olds living on campus," he said. "There's a maturity issue. Upperclassmen will probably handle living off campus better."
NCCU has about 1,900 campus bed spaces now, and probably needs to get to about 3,000, Rome said. Plans are under way for new on-campus housing, but the university needs to be careful not to over-build, he said.
"We would never want to build to the point that we saturate the market," he said. Not every student wants to live on campus."
NCCU has been in the hotel business before. The university placed 1,100 students in 11 off-campus hotels and other sites during the 2003-04 academic year because of the renovations of some campus residence halls and the discovery of toxic mold in other, nearly-new dorms. Having gone through that experience, Wilder is thrilled to deal with just 300 students and one hotel.
"It was a logistical nightmare," she said.
Like admissions and financial aid, the college housing assignment process is more art than science. Officials in all these fields deal with the same fluid data -- students who show interest in a university, compare financial aid packages and consider any number of variables before making their college choice.
But this year is particularly difficult for university officials because the weak economy has led so many people to at least consider college. Many are "non-traditional" students who may have lost a job or simply decided to get more skills training.
Wilder hopes the hotel beds NCCU will rent this fall will come close to meshing with final enrollment numbers. But who knows?
"You don't want to go buy 300 beds and have half of them empty and have to pay for them anyway," she said. "But you don't want to turn students away. So you walk a fine line."