Night of the Invading Bunkbeds

In an effort to combat the surging number of student residents, Phase II is now pulling double duty

Travis Hairgrove, Managing Editor

The adding of bunk beds to selected rooms in Phase II Residence Hall (to increase their occupancy from two students to four) has been a topic of much conversation over the course of the opening few weeks of the Fall 2015 semester.  Alarm over this one particular measure to meet the increased demand for living space on campus has led many in the Texas A&M University-Commerce community to conclude that the residence halls are overfull.

While substantially increasing freshman enrollment coupled with the university’s requirement for students to live their first two years on campus has contributed to this relative scarcity of student housing, Director of Residential Living and Learning, Michael Stark, was able to offer his perspective on the logistical challenges posed by these and other factors.

“When we start reapplication, the upperclassmen get to reapp first, so we get to see the upperclassmen trend,” Stark said.  “Then, we’re watching the open applications for our incoming students, but there’s not a guarantee that those who filled out applications as incoming freshmen will actually show up.  Then, we also realize we don’t have all our international students yet, because it depends on how their visa applications take, so then you’re trying to figure out what that population is starting to look like.  Also, the university has no deadline for enrollment, so you have to anticipate that there will be more people.  There’s a trickle effect.”

The size of the campus-living freshman population, which increased by 300 compared to the last academic year, may be what has received the most attention as a factor contributing to the shortage.  However, this year’s sophomore class (who were also a large freshman class, last year) may have had just as much of an impact on this scramble for space.

“One of our challenges is when we don’t know what a student is doing,” Stark explained.  “We have students who are required to live on campus as sophomores.  We attempt to communicate over the summer, but if they haven’t said they’re coming back, and they didn’t do reapplication…it kind of puts us in a quandary, because we can’t give up their space.  That’s one of the challenges when you require housing.  These increases may change how we do reapplication.  For example, at a prior institution I worked at, they require first-year students and sophomores to live on campus, but they have very few juniors and seniors in the residence halls.  When it comes to upperclassmen, they can apply but it’s a very small chance that they’ll get a room.  I don’t know if that’s exactly where we’re going.  Honestly, that could happen, where we limit the upperclassmen space because of the anticipation on first-year students. I don’t know that that’s going to happen, and I’m not married to that idea, yet we need to look at that data.  We will have meetings, coming up as we get into the next week or so, where we will start talking with enrollment management.”

When those numbers began to indicate that the university was on its way to record enrollment this year, the Department of Residential Life and Learning as well as the Department of Safety and Risk Management got to work at maximizing the available space on campus, to accommodate the immediate demand.

“It all depends on where the space is,” Stark said in regards to determining which students should be housed where, “because some of those rooms are designated for specific groups.  For example, the sorority halls are not full but we can’t go in and put in other students.  While they count in the total usable space, they’re specific.  It’s the same with Honors College and with Regents Scholars…and then, if it’s a space like Smith, they have half that’s male and a half that’s female.  If we have more females, I may have a bunch of male spaces, I can’t use the male spaces for them.  So really, our housing stock didn’t change from last year, except we created more beds in anticipation of a greater demand.  We added about 100 beds…the quads in Phase 2, and then we brought F4 back online.  Alpha Kappa Alpha used to be in that space, but they moved out of the house a couple of years ago, so it was offline.  We had a number of things done to bring it back on, because we anticipated this freshman growth that we’re seeing, so F4 became another option for us, but that’s only about 40 beds.  Those sorority buildings aren’t large.  We also put about $200,000 into Berry, into the HVAC and the electrical system.  Berry had been an under-occupied building for years, so we just hadn’t been using that space until this year.“

Of the oft-discussed bunk beds in Phase II, Stark said, “We set them up as bunk beds in the pictures.  We sent pictures of two different versions.  The beds are ‘bunk-able’. We put in pinholes, so you put the steel dowel rod in there, and then you can bunk them.  Those beds are real nice…and expensive.  We’re not going to Ikea, because it has to last.  We set it up exactly one way in all of the rooms, and students could still take them down and move them, so there were options for space but that provided opportunities for a student to customize their space a little bit more.  We want to have bunk-able beds, because maybe they might want to add a couch, for example.  It was a little tight fit, though.”

These short-term solutions to improving A&M-Commerce’s living space demands, of course, came at a cost.

“Housing is totally self sufficient, so we get no state federal, or university money,” Stark said.  “Our money is basically student money.  In this instance, we had to go into our deferred maintenance line and pull money out of there to be able to do some things.”