Dorm “buyouts” mean fewer freshmen living in hotels

Returning students offered incentive to choose hotel living over dorms

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Photo by Hailey Novak

Pictured left to right are freshmen roommates Meagan Strebig and Kiya Bjorge bonding in their room at America’s Best Value Inn

This fall, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire welcomed its largest freshman class in the last two decades, and last spring, the university faced a problem: housing space.

The incoming freshman class totals 2,240 people, which is around 200 to 300 more than last fall. The housing department doesn’t have enough space to accommodate this many students, especially with the added burden of returning students who wish to continue living in the dorms.

Eau Claire has utilized the Plaza Hotel and America’s Best Value Inn to house extra students for the past 15 years, said Interim Director of Housing and Residence Life Quincy Chapman, and it has mixed reviews. Some students like it, some don’t.

Megan Shilobrit, a freshman and hotel resident, said she feels disconnected from the university community.

“My roommate and I feel a lot more secluded, like we’re not involved with anything outside of the hotel,” Shilobrit said.

This year, Chapman said the university made an effort to try to offer dorm space to the freshmen first so they can have the most authentic on-campus experience. To achieve this, housing made a change last year in the way they doll out dorm assignments, Chapman said. Housing capped the number of returning students wishing to live on campus at 1,750 and left the rest of the space for freshmen.

When housing saw the additional need to free up space in the dorms, Chapman said, they took an additional step to make sure there wasn’t a large amount of freshmen in the hotel this year.

According to a campus housing email, housing offered returning students who wished to live in the residence hall $150 deposited to their Blugold account and two free loads of laundry every week if they volunteered to live in a hotel. Students living in the dorms who convinced their roommate to move out, too, were offered $200 and the same laundry perks.

This fall there are only 52 freshmen living in the hotels.

“Even though the freshman class got bigger, the number of freshman living in hotels got smaller,” Chapman said.

The incentive was offered after the university saw the need to free up additional space in dorms, so some students who already had their assignments in the hotel were not aware of this option.

Sophomores Fengmeng Lo and Braden Lahr are two upperclassmen students who found themselves living in the Plaza this fall.

Both students were assigned to the Plaza and decided not to be put on a waiting list to secure a room in one of the residence halls.

“I’m going to be staying on campus longer than I would normally want to” said Lo.

Future plans to increase dorm space to avoid utilizing the nearby hotels were approved and then froze due to problems with bond borrowing, Chapman said. Chapman said the university planned to build an additional residence hall in Towers field, but for now those plans are no longer in place.

Among additional freshman living in the hotel this fall are also roommates Kiya Bjorge and Maeghan Strebig, who feel their experience will not be much different than they had anticipated before moving in except more limited storage space.

Aside from the longer distance to campus and lack of free wifi, many student residents in the hotels say they are pleased about the bigger beds, pool use, and private bathrooms overall.