In his 2016 State of the University address, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green declared a goal of boosting enrollment from around 25,000 to 35,000 students by 2025. In the next year’s address, he pointed to “an aspirational goal” of 32,500 students.
The question is, then: Where would these additional students live?
Finding the answer to that question is up to University Housing, but interim Housing director Charlie Francis does not appear worried that UNL would experience such growth.
He said University Housing has no plans to build a new residence hall to accommodate the hypothetical influx of students. If changes were to be made, Francis said he believes Selleck Quadrangle would be the first to receive a renovation or expansion, but he did not elaborate.
According to current enrollment trends, 2025 will come and go well before the university reaches Green’s 32,500-student mark. The university enrolled more than 26,000 students for the first time in 2017, but that number dipped to approximately 25,800 last year. Enrollment numbers for the 2019-20 school year were released on Sept. 9, and the figure stands at 25,332 students.
While the student population hovers near its all-time high, two long-standing dormitories were torn down two winters ago. Cather and Pound halls were demolished in December 2017, significantly lowering the maximum capacity of University Housing. Francis said there are no immediate additional plans for that area, which is now controlled by the university, not Housing.
Another building no longer under the purview of Housing is Neihardt Hall. The building is not in use this year for the first time since it was constructed as a women’s dormitory in 1932. Since then, the building had functioned as the home of the UNL Honors Program.
Francis told The Daily Nebraskan in November 2018 that closing Neihardt would allow the university to determine what to do with the building moving forward. Since closing after the spring 2019 semester, Green tabbed the Neihardt Complex Task Force with reviewing and proposing potential future uses for the building or the site it sits on, according to Leslie Reed, director of public affairs for the Office of University Communication.
The task force’s findings and recommendations are due to the chancellor on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
With Neihardt no longer in use, the Honors Program relocated to Knoll Residential Center. Reed said this move appears to have helped the program expand. In the 2018-19 academic year, Neihardt housed 247 honors students. In the current academic year, Knoll houses 443 honors students, which is an increase of 79.4%.
During 2015 and 2016, housing capacity was steady with space for 7,397 people, per the 2018-19 UNL Fact Book. The demolition of Cather and Pound halls lowered the capacity of on-campus housing by 500 to 600 people.
In the last five years, the closest residence halls have come to full capacity was in 2014, when 6,865 students filled 7,607 available spots, or 90.25%.
According to Francis, campus housing –– not considering Greek housing –– can hold around 6,400 students in the 2019-20 academic year. Including Greek housing in that number, on-campus housing capacity is 8,272 for this year.
Since 2014, there has been a 4% drop in the number of students living in residence halls out of UNL’s total enrollment. In 2014, 27.5% of students lived on campus, but the number dropped to 23.5% last year. Greek housing significantly boosts the on-campus residency figures, adding over 1,000 students to the total.
According to the Fact Book, 7,166 students lived in University Housing, student family housing and Greek housing last year, which was 27.8% of the student body population of 25,820. That percentage has dramatically decreased since the 2013-14 Fact Book was released. Five years ago, 9,146 students out of 25,006 lived on campus, either in residence halls, student family housing or in a Greek house –– a mark of 36.6%.
However, on-campus Greek residency is declining similarly to residence hall living. In 2014, 1,852 students lived in a Greek house, but that number fell to 1,001 students last year. The drastic decline came when Greek housing capacity dipped from a maximum of 1,910 students to 1,658.
“We know that the ultimate concern for students is the cost,” Sheri Rosso, the marketing and communications director for University Housing, said. “That is continually at top of mind throughout our operations.”
One way Housing has worked to lower costs is through the implementation of new meal plan packs. Previously, there were two options for students –– a five-day plan or a seven-day plan. While freshmen living on campus are required to buy the seven-day, all-access plan, students who are sophomores or above have the option to purchase a pack of 440 meals. Juniors and seniors also have the option to buy a pack of 250 meals, and buying one of those two meal packs unlocks the ability to buy 25 additional meals at a time.
Rosso also said that while there are no plans for renovating or expanding the buildings, the department has been conducting surveys and figuring out what amenities students would like to see in on-campus housing. One of those, Rossi mentioned, is laundry.
“We learned through a focus group that laundry facilities at no cost is important to students,” she said. “We are implementing that amenity for 2020-21.”
Right now, Housing’s lack of immediate plans for renovation or expansion fits the number of people the department serves. While the university struggles to meet Chancellor Green’s goal, Housing will wait to see how enrollment numbers change by 2025 before discussing any development plans.
This article was originally published in the October 2019 edition of The DN.