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Universities give gifts for students' rooms

Globe and Mail - July 16, 2003
by Caroline Alphonso

First-year university students normally pay hundreds of dollars as a deposit to secure a room in residence. But this year, two schools are offering laptop computers, Blackberry hand-held devices and money to persuade students to give up their right to a bed.

The universities do not have enough room to house every student who arrives on campus this fall.

McMaster University and Wilfrid Laurier University are offering these carrots to students to live off campus after realizing that too many students have accepted their offers of admission and residence-room guarantees.

With the offer of a $500 credit for books, a Blackberry with an air-time package or $1,000 towards tuition, students face a unique choice: Take a room in residence or trade it in for the goodies.

"We are oversubscribed on residence," said Philip Wood, associate vice-president of student affairs at McMaster. "We've promised [about] 100 more people spots than we have beds for."

Other universities in the province are in a similar predicament as they handle the record number of high-school graduates in Ontario's double-cohort class.

The University of Guelph is converting single rooms into doubles, while other schools have raised the grade average needed to be guaranteed a room in residence.

McMaster students need at least an 80-per-cent average to get a room in residence, a five-percentage-point jump from last year. The university, like many others, has more students accepting offers than the number of spaces available.

In an attempt to ease the double-cohort crush in student residence, Mr. Wood offered 150 students who live in Hamilton, Ont., and the surrounding area a $1,000 credit on their student account for books and tuition fees.

But fewer than 10 students who live a bus ride away from campus gave up their residence spots and accepted the cash, an offer that expired last Thursday.

This leaves the university with the problem.

"We're still a few over, but we're confident through attrition and cancellations we can handle it," Mr. Wood said.

Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo, Ont., is nearly 100 beds short because more students accepted offers than expected, although the university has added residence buildings both on and off campus.

The university has sweetened the pot for the first 100 students who withdraw their residence applications, offering incentives worth $2,500. Students would receive a $500 food credit, a $500 book credit, and a choice of a laptop computer, a desktop computer or a Blackberry with an eight-month air-time package.

"We had quite a discussion . . . about being a little more creative in trying to settle the housing crunch earlier," said David McMurray, dean of students at Wilfrid Laurier. "We're fortunate there's a higher vacancy rate in Waterloo today than there was three years ago. "There are choices that students have."

Grace Volpe, who will be attending the university, said she's not tempted. "I would have nowhere else to live," the 18-year-old said. "If I were in commuting distance, maybe."

The number of students who actually arrive on university campuses in September usually drops by about 2 per cent from the number accepted, but officials know that this is an unusual year. Twice the usual number of students have graduated from high school because the Ontario government has eliminated Grade 13.

The provincial government has boasted that it has successfully met student demand, but the effects of this glut of graduates is slowly being realized, especially in the area of residence spaces.

Calling the issue "manageable," Brenda Whiteside, associate vice-president of student affairs at the University of Guelph, said some of the single rooms can be turned into doubles. McMaster also plans to convert at least 40 of its large double-bed rooms into triple-bed rooms by installing bunks.

Brock University president David Atkinson acknowledged that schools have to be more creative than in the past. The university has about 300 more students than it expected, but it guaranteed residence only to those with higher marks.

"We won't be going the route of offering Brock bucks yet," Mr. Atkinson said.

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