A month ago, the number of Barnard students awaiting a housing assignment was over 80. But by last week, the waitlist was down to three students.
“If we get additional requests, even after school starts, we will add them to the waitlist,” Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson told Spectator in an email. “Students may cancel their housing even after school begins so things may continue to open up.”
This summer, Barnard faced a severe housing shortage for the second consecutive year, the result of a higher number of admitted students, a higher yield, and more students choosing to live on campus. Administrators were ultimately able to offer on-campus housing for most students, but only after encouraging some students to seek off-campus housing and implementing a series of controversial policy changes.
Students who took semester-long leaves of absence from Barnard signed housing contracts last December guaranteeing them housing in the fall, but administrators revoked those guarantees in February. Barnard spokesperson Sun Min said that the college put a statement on its website about the change in February, but did not notify returning students until May that they would not be guaranteed housing when they returned.
Transfer students, on the other hand, were aware of Barnard’s policy of not guaranteeing them housing, but they were told by administrators in May that they had nothing to worry about. In August, though, Residential Life and Housing told approximately 70 transfer students to start looking for off-campus accommodations, suggesting the 92nd Street Y, on Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street, where Barnard had reserved some discounted rooms.
Students who live off-campus are considered “commuter students” and could lose up to $11,000 in financial aid grants, although it’s unclear if any returning or transfer students have seen their financial aid cut as a result of the housing shortage.
To address the housing shortage, administrators also converted about 50 coveted single rooms in Plimpton Hall—corner rooms of approximately 170 square feet—into cramped double rooms.
“This was not a solution that we implemented lightly, as we had either exhausted or ruled out all other feasible options,” Hinkson said in an email. “We are mindful of the inequity of the solution for the students who, for the most part, had good numbers in the housing lottery and took great care in arranging their suites.”
When students moved into the converted Plimpton doubles last week, some of them discovered that their rooms had insufficient furniture or storage space.
“It seems to me like every room got something different,” Pippa Biddle, BC ’15 and a transfer student living in a converted Plimpton double, said in a message. “My room has one closet, four sets of drawers, two desks, and two book shelves. I know some people who got three desks or no bookshelves or three sets of drawers. So it’s mismatched.”
Biddle added that a friend had requested another closet, only to be told that none were being given out.
On Aug. 17, Hinkson sent an email to all Barnard students apologizing for the housing shortage and explaining what brought it about. She said that in addition to a higher yield rate over the last two years, 53 more returning students than in 2010 sought on-campus housing. On top of that, Barnard received only 84 housing cancellations this year, a number that has been as high as 134 over the last five years.
Hinkson said in an email that to avert a third consecutive housing shortage next year, Barnard “will be looking very carefully at the status of all returning students and it is likely that we will once again reduce the percentage of students that are offered admission.”