116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Students clamoring to return to campus — and to the collegiate norms of in-person learning, group study sessions, football games, tailgating, Greek rush and homecoming — began moving into residence halls over the weekend and will continue throughout the week.
This fall, unlike last, residence hall students won’t have limits on visitors to their rooms. They won’t be forced to meet and mingle with dorm mates via Zoom and online mixers. They won’t be required to wear masks — although with the delta variant of COVID-19 leading a surge, they’ll be encouraged.
And there will be more of them than last fall.
University of Iowa officials last week told The Gazette they’re expecting about 5,675 students will live in the campus’ 10 residence halls this fall, up from last fall’s 5,218 — which was well below the previous year’s 6,333 and was aggravated by 700-plus students who canceled their housing contracts after the date they were allowed to move in.
The updated UI residence hall projection for this fall is shy of the 5,725 students officials earlier this year had budgeted for, and about 1,000 under the campus’ 6,660 capacity. That puts the UI occupancy ratio at about 85 percent.
UI officials declined to share what portion of this fall’s expected 5,675 residence hall students will be freshmen and how many will be returners. But in Board of Regents documents earlier this year, UI officials estimated a fall 2021 freshman class of about 4,800 — on par with last fall’s 4,843 first-year class, which was nearly 10 percent below the 5,372 freshman in fall 2019.
“With the expected availability of housing space, (University of Housing and Dining) is in a position to again actively market and retain a larger number of returning students in the residence halls,” according a board residency system report in February.
The university pushed on-campus living to older students, in part, by reducing the density of its suite-style Mayflower Hall to create more single rooms — an effort that proved successful, officials said.
Iowa State University declined to share projected residence hall occupancy before unveiling its enrollment numbers in September. Earlier this year, officials had projected for regents a partial rebound of 9,250 residence hall students this fall, up from last year’s 8,658 but short of the 10,457 in fall 2019. That higher level, due to residence hall changes over the year, wouldn’t even be possible as ISU has decreased its operating capacity to 9,767.
The University of Northern Iowa for this fall has about 3,100 students contracted to live on campus, which is about 90 percent of its 3,414 operating capacity. That is 3,100 above last fall’s 2,953 and above earlier expectations of 2,965.
It’s only slightly below UNI’s pre-pandemic occupancy of 3,197, and officials report 94 percent of new incoming students are planning to live on campus. More than half of UNI’s returning students are contracted to live on campus this fall, according to UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke.
The rebound in numbers could recover some of the millions lost for the self-supporting residence hall operations, which don’t receive state-appropriated funds.
Last year, UI’s estimated net revenue of $3.7 million was $1.5 million below a revised budget for the year and $8.1 million below the previous budget year’s net revenue. ISU’s $5 million in estimated net revenue last year was $2.3 million below a revised budget and $10.3 million below the previous year’s net revenue. And UNI’s $1.5 million was $374,788 below a revised budget and $1.1 million under the previous year.
Although all three public universities are hoping for stronger financial years this term, UI is the only campus that raised room-and-board rates for the most-popular double room and meal plan — up 2.7 percent.
The UI also has returned to its pre-pandemic cancellation policy — meaning students wanting to exit their agreements will suffer a financial penalty after Aug. 20. Last year, the UI extended the deadline to request contract release without financial penalty to Sept. 10 “to accommodate students whose courses have shifted to an online format or who have expressed personal concern about COVID-19 and would prefer not to live in the residence halls at this time.”
Additionally, according to UI Housing & Dining Director and Assistant Vice President for Student Life Von Stange, “Once students receive their housing assignment, they are given 7 days to cancel their housing contract with no financial penalty before it becomes binding.”
So far, he said, UI Housing and Dining has released some students due to university withdraw, transfer, marriage and “unforeseen circumstances,” which is typical.
The UI housing contract, again this year like last, explicitly absolves the institution from liability for the spread of COVID-19 and individual student infections.
“University Housing & Dining strongly encourages all individuals to follow the recommended public health guidelines, but it cannot control the behavior of any particular individual,” according to this year’s contract. “As a result, the University of Iowa is not and will not be liable for any public health threat to which a student or visitor may be exposed, including but not limited to the transmission of any infectious disease such as COVID-19.”
The university’s housing guidance notes vaccines are “strongly” encouraged but not required. The staff also didn’t and isn’t planning to collect vaccination information as part of its lifestyle questionnaire, “and we will not take vaccination status into account when making room assignments.”
“We encourage all students to talk with their roommate about personal plans to manage COVID-19 and understand that it is up to each individual if they choose to disclose their vaccination status to a roommate,” according to housing and dining guidance. “Any communication that may be perceived to pressure, force, or coerce anyone to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination should be avoided.”
All three campuses still are providing space for students to isolate if they become infected with the virus and to quarantine if they have a close contact. But while students are asked to self-report, campus officials have said they can’t mandate it — given health privacy laws.
Although the campuses are employing similar ramped up cleaning protocols, many of last fall’s strict and novel move-in procedures have been altered and largely relaxed. ISU, for example, is not testing everyone for COVID-19 before move-in to the dorms this fall like it did last year.
UI Housing & Dining isn’t limiting students to two moving-helpers, isn’t requiring masks, and will have volunteers on site to help — among other things.
For members of the public looking to avoid move-in traffic, below are dates students are scheduled to arrive before classes begin Aug. 23:
University of Iowa
Monday-Thursday: New students move in.
Saturday: Returning students move in.
Iowa State University
Tuesday-Wednesday: New students move in.
Thursday: Returning students move in.
University of Northern Iowa
Monday-Tuesday: Early arriving students move in.
Tuesday: New students move in.
Friday: Returning students move in.
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