AMES — After years of seeing too many students compete for too few dorm rooms — relegating some to waitlists as residence hall lobbies were converted for temporary living and overflow rooms were leased at off-campus properties — Iowa’s two largest public universities are projecting occupancy rates below 100 percent for at least five years.
The shift is the result of a residence hall building boom initiated in response to surging enrollment at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, paired with a recent slowdown — and even decrease — in that student growth.
For ISU and the UI, the residence hall system right-sizing comes as somewhat of a relief in that it allows the institutions to let go of off-campus leases and, at least at the UI, shelve the use of hallway lobbies as temporary housing confines.
The University of Northern Iowa, though, for years has been below capacity and has been employing efforts to increase its numbers.
So far, those haven’t worked A 2017 report shows 96 percent occupancy with a goal of 98 percent by 2022. UNI’s residence system occupancy this year is 81 percent — well below its projection.
The UI’s occupancy rate sits around 91 percent, where it’s expected to stay for the next five years. ISU’s is about 100 percent this year but projected to fall to between 97 and 99 percent in the coming years.
Of the three state universities, ISU houses the most students in its residence system, with 11,401 this year — or 33 percent of its 34,992 enrollment. The UI houses 6,078 students, or 18 percent of its 32,948 students. UNI houses 3,558 students, or 32 percent of its 11,212 total.
But each system, citing “a unique competitive environment with individual capital and operational needs,” is asking the Board of Regents to approve rate increases for the next academic year.
Although each institution offers a variety of room-and-board options with varying rates and amenities, proposed rates for a standard double room without air and with a standard meal plan are proposed to increase nearly 2 percent at the UI and ISU and about 3 percent at UNI.
At the UI, that amounts to a $187 increase for a total $9,783 in the 2020 budget year.
Gross revenue that year is expected to increase $1.3 million at the UI and $1.7 million at ISU. UNI, with its projected occupancy dip, is expecting a revenue decrease of about $235,500.
The universities establish rate increases and create budgets based on occupancy projections and also upgrade and maintenance needs.
“Over the past several years, capital spending for replacement and repair projects has consistently increased and have averaged approximately $10 million per year,” according to the UI’s five-year residence system plan. “Over the past 15 years, every restroom in the system was renovated to provide privacy.”
Thursday, the Board of Regents meeting in Ames granted the UI permission to proceed with planning for an $8.5 million renovation of the Hillcrest Residence Hall. That project would replace floors, walls and ceilings in the 80-year-old dorm’s student rooms, corridors, lounges and elevator lobbies.
Officials expect the work — funded through University Housing Renewal and Improvement funds — to take four summers, beginning in the summer of 2020.
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