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U.S. universities and colleges face a huge demand for on-campus housing

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many universities and colleges are dealing with a huge demand for on-campus housing. That has created shortages at schools across the country. The housing crisis has forced many schools to try to find inventive solutions. Maya Fawaz of member station KUT has this report.

MAYA FAWAZ, BYLINE: Grace Young (ph) didn't know what to expect when she moved into her first college dorm this fall. The Texas State freshman says it was a chaotic moving day here at Arnold Hall, but there was an added challenge. She and her roommate were moving into a room meant for one.

GRACE YOUNG: Hearing that it was a one-person dorm, I was definitely very nervous about that experience.

FAWAZ: Grace says she has had to get crafty. Her desk is where she eats, studies and crochets. She even figured out how to cram a small couch under her bed.

YOUNG: We moved in. And my mom's looking at the space, and she's like, I don't know if it's going to fit. And I looked at her. I said, it's going to fit one way or another.

FAWAZ: Texas State is one of many schools across the country that's had to get creative to fit more students on campus the last two years. The school has had to turn lots of single-occupancy rooms into doubles and doubles into triples. Even some study rooms were turned into bedrooms. Texas State admitted a record number of freshmen for its third consecutive year. And once again, it's struggling with where to put its record-sized freshman class. Bill Mattera has been working to squeeze in all these students. He's Texas State's director of housing and residential life. But he says this problem isn't unique to his school.

BILL MATTERA: If you look across the country, there's lots of schools that are dealing with this challenge of building fast enough, building reasonable enough.

FAWAZ: Mattera says Texas State put a pause on building new dorms during the pandemic. Building materials got way more expensive, and there was no way to tell how many students would come back to campus. So as enrollment numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and more and more freshmen chose to go to Texas State, the school ran out of space. Just north of Texas State, Huston-Tillotson University in Austin has about 14% of its students bunking in dorms at another school 4 miles away. President Melva Wallace says now transportation is the next problem.

MELVA WALLACE: It's whack-a-mole when it comes to solving these housing issues.

FAWAZ: She worries the lack of on-campus housing could make students reconsider applying.

WALLACE: We are turning this talent away. We're all losing when we don't solve the housing crisis.

FAWAZ: Big schools in California, like UC Santa Cruz, have also had to increase dorm occupancy and convert study rooms into additional bedrooms. UC Santa Cruz spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason says the university wants to house as many students on campus as it can, where studies show they do better academically. But the pandemic also delayed the school's dorm construction projects.

SCOTT HERNANDEZ-JASON: The good news is there remains tremendous interest in a UC Santa Cruz education. We continue to receive more interest from students than we can possibly accommodate.

FAWAZ: Santa Cruz isn't alone in this housing shortage. There's a crisis throughout the UC system. California rents in many places are high, driven up further by inflation, making it difficult for students to find off-campus housing. Some students are living in hotels or even vehicles. Hernandez-Jason says the university helps students get placed in emergency housing.

HERNANDEZ-JASON: We don't believe living in cars is really the right approach for students to have a safe and successful college career.

FAWAZ: Back on the Texas State campus, Grace Young might have been able to find a bigger space if she had lived off-campus. But being in a dorm has made it easy for her to meet new people and makes her feel like part of a community.

YOUNG: I never expected to find this many people that I'm like, oh, my God, it's my friend over there. I was sitting across campus. Like, it's my friend, you know?

FAWAZ: And while her dorm room may be cramped, Grace and her roommate have found a way to make it work. She says, for now, it's home. For NPR News, I'm Maya Fawaz in San Marcos, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maya Fawaz