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IOWA CITY — Dorm life — which, like everything else, experienced major disruption in the last two years — appeared largely back to normal Sunday on the University of Iowa campus, when students ushered in the annual return-to-campus ritual with the start of residence hall move-in.
From Sunday through Tuesday, UI’s newest Hawkeyes will move in to one of 11 halls at a designated time they chose through an online sign-up system. A slimmer sect of students was allowed to move in early Saturday for a fee, and returning students and others will move in later in the week.
Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa also are moving in the majority of their students this week, welcoming new students Tuesday and Wednesday.
Where the campuses last fall acknowledged the pandemic throughout their move-in and return-to-campus guidance, this fall’s messaging looks largely pre-COVID-19 — especially given revised guidance last week from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention that lifted quarantine requirements and school-related testing mandates.
“I think a lot of people have done what they feel is necessary to feel safe, and now we get to open back up,” new UI freshman Brenden Steinbach, 18, from Mankato, Minn., told The Gazette on Sunday afternoon while unloading a mini-fridge from the back of his vehicle outside Slater Residence Hall.
With COVID-19 comfort levels raising and in-person classes making up the majority of fall semester course offerings, the UI is projecting a larger first-year class than its last two. And where its residence hall occupancy fell in the 2020-21 school year to 5,218 from 6,333 the year before — staying sub-6,000 last year at 5,642 — UI officials expect to once again top 6,000 this year.
“We’re currently expecting well over 6,000 first-year and returning students to live in the residence halls in the 2022-23 academic year,” UI spokesman Steve Schmadeke said.
The university in July thought the strong freshman class would require some to live a while in converted residence hall lounges, but Schmadeke last week told The Gazette that UI Housing and Dining has found room accommodations for everyone.
“We are expecting no students to be moving into temporary expanded housing,” he said.
The UI did, however, reopen a residence hall it recently closed and pegged for possible demolition: Parklawn Hall, built in 1955 along North Riverside Drive and near Hancher Auditorium. That building — featuring suite-style rooms with kitchens and bathrooms — this fall will hold 137 students, up from the 98 it housed five years ago.
ISU and UNI
ISI, which has 22 residence halls and student apartment buildings, before the pandemic reported occupancy nearing 10,500. COVID-19 drove numbers into the 8,000s, but waning pandemic concerns has projections rebounding back to 9,700, according to ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt.
UNI, which houses a large chunk of its student body on campus, said residential numbers are still “fluid for fall enrollment” — although officials prepared a fiscal 2023 budget based on 2,997 in residence halls, according to Board of Regents documents.
That would be down from last fall, aligning with lower tuition revenue expectations for this year based on its projected enrollment.
ISU and UNI anticipate occupancy rates steadily rising in the coming years, while UI anticipates holding steady at about 92 percent of its 6,569 total capacity.
'Back to normal’
Last year, prominent on UI Housing and Dining’s website, was a “fall 2021” link outlining — among other things — pandemic-related accommodations, including vaccine and face mask guidance. While neither were required, vaccination was strongly encouraged.
“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 last year’s UI guidance. “Any communication that may be perceived to pressure, force, or coerce anyone to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination should be avoided.”
On-campus COVID-19 quarantine housing also was available for students last year.
But this summer, a message to campus reported only “limited space available in the Iowa House Hotel for students wishing to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19.”
“As with any illness, we encourage students to have a plan if they or their roommate becomes sick,” according to the summer communication. “Students may choose to return home or find alternate housing off campus in the event that they or their roommate needs to isolate or quarantine.”
This year’s move-in guidance does include some reference to the pandemic — like in the UI list for “what to bring” that starts with a face covering and thermometer. But UI freshman Gwen Campbell, 18, of West Des Moines, on Sunday said her college experience, in its infancy, seems pretty typical.
That’s what she wanted and what she expected — even as her peers a year and two years senior were restricted from meeting and mingling in person.
“I thought by the time I got to college everything would be kind of back to normal,” she said while helping her family wheel in carts of belongings to her new dorm room. “So I wasn't too nervous.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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