Mac feels pinch from empty beds

By Brian Martucci

Already beset by financial strain, Macalester has found itself with yet another fiscal problem this semester-a significant amount of open rooms in its upperclassman dorms. According to Treasurer David Wheaton, the number of empty beds has increased from 70 in the fall to at least 100 this semester, in part because of a high number of students studying abroad, costing Macalester about $204,000 this spring.

While unoccupied beds have not led to additional marginal costs, including housekeeping, Wheaton still said, “We are taking a straight loss on these vacancies.”

This year the college charged students who live on-campus $2,042 per semester for their rooms.

Macalester’s Associate Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said that the surplus is in part the result of an equally serious housing shortage from a few years ago, which encouraged some students to move off-campus. Locally affordable rents helped fuel the exodus, and in the end there was more movement into surrounding neighborhoods than was necessary to make up the difference.

Traditionally, about 25 percent of Macalester students live off campus. That number may still be on the rise. On average, the cost of a decent off-campus apartment runs between $300 and $450 per month. And off-campus food is significantly cheaper than a CafAc Mac meal plan, saving students hundreds of dollars per semester.

Miranda Gray ’07, one student who has decided to live off campus, explained her reasoning. “One, because it’s cheaper,” she said. “Two, because I already spend enough time on campus. And it’s nice to have a place I can call my own.”

In addition, many students take issue with what they consider heavy-handed Residential Life policies. “I remained off-campus because Residential Life policies do not contribute to a healthy, safe, or fun living environment,” Spencer Edelman ’06 said.

Even some first-years seem to lean toward living off-campus in the future. “Depending on how far away I was, I’d definitely prefer to be off-campus. That would be ideal,” Dakota Ryan ’09 said.

To correct the current imbalance, Hoppe said, Res Life has embarked on a low-key campaign “to make campus housing more accessible.” The office plans to publicly announce procedures for the upcoming room draw and to tout the advantages of on-campus living.

“Part of our job is to explain what you get [in terms of housing] for your money,” Hoppe said. “We need to strike a balance between making it as easy as possible to live on campus while keeping it fair for all students.”

In the interest of fairness, room draw follows an orderly procedure that leaves less to chance than students might imagine. “First we back out beds in the first-year dorms for the incoming freshmen we expect to arrive in the coming semester,” Hoppe said.

Rising sophomores come next, and together these two groups generally fill Dupre, along with 30 Mac, Bigelow and Wallace complex to capacity.

“Specialty floors”—including the language houses, and the veggie co-op, and so on—take third priority since they require prospective residents to formally apply for a finite number of spots. Only then are the names remaining in room draw paired with upperclassman housing.

Hoppe stressed that the effort to fill the latter two dorms is still solely a public relations one, ruling out more drastic measures. “At this time there are no plans to offer students reduced [room and board] rates,” he said.