The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s on-campus housing system would not support Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s enrollment goal of 30,000 students by 2020.
However, with planned changes in the next few years, UNL should be on track to accommodate an increased number of students when or if the time comes.
“We’re planning to make sure we can accommodate the larger enrollment,” Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco said. “We’re building a new residence hall to open in August and were also planning on building a new residence hall out on East Campus. We’re working with the Greek community who are both looking at remodeling and looking at adding new chapters with additional housing. It also depends on off-campus private housing being built.”
In fall 2013, about 26 percent of students lived in an on-campus residence hall. If that rate was maintained with 30,000 enrollment, the university would be about 600 beds short — current capacity is 7,210.
But capacity will soon grow as suite-style residence hall Eastside Suites is set to open this August.
There are also plans to add a residence hall on UNL’s East Campus in 2017. This new hall would replace two current residence halls on East Campus, Burr and Fedde.
“We’re still in the design stages, so we don’t have specifics,” Franco said. “But that’s our plan – to build a new residence hall on East Campus. We’re looking at different options. Building where Burr and Fedde is is one option, but we’re also looking at other sites.”
While Burr and Fedde could be torn down at some point, it won’t happen in the near future. The university would make use of them for purposes other than housing in the mean time, Franco said.
“I think it would be good – it seems like on City Campus all their dorms are up to date,” said Molly Goin, a Fedde resident and freshman animal science major. “Especially the bathrooms need updating.”
The university is cautious about adding more residential housing after Eastside Suites and the future residence hall on East Campus
“We want to see more about how exactly those classes are breaking down, University Housing director Sue Gildersleeve said. “The construction can certainly add more pressure to our rates, and we certainly don’t want to do that.”
However, Gildersleeve said if enrollment were to increase to the point where UNL was feeling the pressure, administrators would consider adding more housing. Another option would be reducing housing options for upperclassmen.
“We’d say we have a certain amount of rooms for sophomores, juniors, seniors, and it’d be sort of a lottery,” she said. “But our preference is to have everyone who wants to live with us able to live with us.”
UNL’s focus is on supporting the freshman class because those students are required to live either on campus or at home.
Local and national studies, including one published in 2011 by the John Hopkins University Press, have indicated that living on campus as a freshman and often as a sophomore tends to improve retention, persistency toward graduation, engagement in campus life and reduce distraction toward whatever is going on off campus, Gildersleeve said.
“We really like to see them get that great foundation the first few years, she said. “But then by the time you’re a junior or senior and so on you ought to have those connections made so it’s fine to be more independent at that point.”
Greek housing has run into some more problems when it comes to expansion. In fall 2013, 1,306 students lived in Greek houses, according to UNL Institutional Research and Planning. Capacity was listed at 1,466.
“It’s a challenge because there’s no place to go in terms of expanding existing sorority chapters and living units,” said Linda Schwartzkopf, director of Greek Affairs. “Everybody is very land locked. An opportunity for growth would come from being able to bring on additional sorority and fraternity chapters. But in order to do that, it would be necessary to designate some land for future Greek expansion.”
Although chapters aren’t required to have houses, the residential living piece is a big part of the tradition at UNL as well as a key attraction for future members.
Sororities in particular are lacking in housing right now, Schwartzkopf said.
“Way back when – when the first fraternity living unit was actually established, before the university provided housing for any student – fraternity chapters were built and established with the idea that they’d house student for all four years,” Schwartzkopf said. “When residence halls came about, they were for women only. There were other options for women when sororities came about. Chapter houses just don’t hold as many because of that difference.”
Because of that dilemma, some Greek communities such as Alpha Delta Pi, currently located on 17th and G streets at the Atwood house, have chosen to move off campus.
“The chapters that have elected to go off campus are chapters that did not have any living units,” Schwartzkopf said. “They didn’t see anything opening up on campus anytime soon – they decided that they needed some kind of community gathering place and that moving off campus was a good alternative to not having any kind of residential facility.”
But chapters that move off campus are not recognized as university-approved housing, which means first year students can’t live at the house. Most sororities that have university-approved housing don’t have first year students living in them because of a lack of space, Schwartzkopf said.
“(UNL reaching 30,000 students) will definitely cause challenges and cause Greek chapters to reevaluate what it menas to be a member - how you can keep members engaged when they are no longer living together,” Schwartzkopf said.
Currently, each sorority has a campus total of 140 members. Once that number is reached, the sororities have to wait until the next formal recruitment to recruit anyone else. Fraternities do not have a campus total.
Schwartzkopf said the Greek community would be able to adapt to 30,000 students by either allowing more chapters to have larger memberships or by participating in expansion, which would involve inviting sororities and fraternities that aren’t currently on campus to come visit.
Despite the challenges, Gildersleeve said she feels good about the future.
“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s been a very good thing for us to have these goals because it’s caused us to think about why we do things and how we do things …” she said. “It’s definitely been a challenge, but I think, in my view, it was a wonderful thing to have set before us and has a lot of positives in terms of what we can do for students here at UNL.”