Dorm Choice Moves Online
By ELIZABETH BODI
When University of Mary Washington Junior Amy Baldwin left housing selection her freshman year, she was in tears.
Baldwin’s unfortunate lottery number forced her to wait five hours during the selection process. At the end the evening, she accepted one of the last available spaces: a placement in Ball Hall with a roommate other than the one she started the night with.
“It was the third worst night of my life,” Baldwin said, “third only to the engine of my car nearly exploding on I-95, and almost ruining a televised ceremony by getting lost with its awards in the back of my car.”
Divided based upon class standing, the three nights of housing selection gather about 65 percent of the University’s nearly 4,000 undergraduates, hopeful and anxious alike, into Great Hall every year.
This year, Residence Life is trying to ease some of the student frustrations aroused by housing selection.
Director of Residence Life Christine Porter and her have researched and implemented effort-saving alternatives to the regular selection process.
One change is that students who have previously paid the $200 deposit will not have to renew it.
“In discussions with Student Accounts, we learned the deposits can be rolled from year to year and decided that we’d go in that direction to simplify the process for everyone,” Porter said.
Additionally, returning students will fill out housing and dining contracts online. While most see this as an improvement, technical difficulties complicate the process.
The new system caused confusion when students tried to submit a new contract and received a message saying that they had already submitted one.
Porter explained that the glitches students experienced during the first days of using the online system had two causes.
“The first was human error. I had set the online process for the wrong semester,” Porter said. The second was a coding issue that the Department of Information Technologies fixed.
Residence Life sent an email notification to the student body Feb. 6, alerting them of the problem. By the next day the technical errors had been corrected, and as of Feb. 12 over 800 contracts have been submitted electronically.
“Basically, by the time the e-mail was sent, [the contract] was already fixed,” Porter said.
Senior Mike Man said that while moving the process online was understandable and cut out paperwork, it did give him some difficulties.
“There wasn’t a place to state you were homesteading on the housing contract, and it’s obviously made for incoming students with the questions about choosing a residence hall,” Man said.
Although going online means housing selection requires less effort, it does not necessarily mean less anxiety as freshman Katy Fleming knows.
“I’m very intimidated,” Fleming said. “I’m terrified of being stuck down the hill in Marshall.” Fleming and her friends are trying to fill an entire suite and hope that they will not be split up.
When they run out of available rooms, Residence Life puts those left without a room assignment, who have signed the housing and dining contract on a priority list. They are guaranteed a room, but may not know their assignments until the summer.
“I don’t anticipate it being more than we’ve worked with in the past. Several years ago I had over 200 people on the priority list and we housed all of those people,” said Porter.
Junior Amy Baldwin recalls the frustration of her freshman selection night.
“A lot of people around me were crying because they couldn’t be with their roommates or didn’t have a place to live at all,” she said. “I even tried to see if I could move off campus, but they told me I couldn’t get out of the contract.”
Residence Life policy says that once a contract is submitted, students cannot be released unless they plan on leaving the University.
According to the Residence Life fact sheet on housing, dissatisfaction with a room assignment, not getting a preferred roommate, or deciding to move off-campus does not nullify the contract.
In order to meet housing demands, Residence Life may wait for currently housed students to leave the University, or they may create upper-class floors in freshman dorms.
Different housing processes are in use at institutions like the University of Virginia, where students do not sign contracts until after they have been offered a room. At James Madison University, students get individual appointment times for selection based on their lottery numbers.
Porter has requested approximately $150,000 to buy a program that could move selection completely online. She is unsure if it will be approved.
“Implementing a system like this involves many different players,” Porter said. “It would probably take a year to implement after receiving budget approval.”