Update, 2:30 am: We read the email a few times, talked to some tipsters, and came to the following conclusions:

  • The policy for returning students was changed in February, before any of the stuff that Dean Hinkson mentions as unexpectedly causing the shortage. The deadline for study abroad, yield numbers (which show how many new freshmen there will be), and the housing lottery (which shows how many returning students there will be) all occur in March, April, or May, months which come after February.
  • Accepting fewer freshwomen is good, but doesn’t affect the amount of housing for upperclasswomen. Last year, Barnard admitted a record number of froshbears and they had to convert a bunch of study lounges into 4-person rooms just to house all of them. There are now sophomores who need upperclass housing, and who will become juniors, and so on. This is a problem that will continue to grow unless Barnard significantly changes their admission habits, or starts buying more real estate.
  • If Barnard was really concerned about the upperclass housing shortage, they could have accepted fewer transfers. By the time transfers were being admitted, Barnard should already have known about the record number of sophomores, high freshman yield, and lack of students studying abroad. So why admit 70 transfers they can’t house?

Barnard students just received the following email from Dean Hinkson, timestamped at 11:40 pm, addressing the housing crisis:

Dear Students,

I am writing to you with a detailed update about the on-campus housing situation. For those of you who have been directly impacted by the housing shortage, specifically readmitted students, new transfers, continuing students on the waitlist, and Plimpton residents whose rooms and suites were converted to house an additional resident, I want to personally express my appreciation for your understanding and flexibility while working with the Office of Residential Life and apologize for the inconvenience and anxiety that this has caused you and your families.

Since there has been some confusion about how the shortage came about and what the College did and is doing in response, I hope that I can offer some clarity. In previous years, we have been able to accommodate most if not all students on the waitlist but this year has simply been different and unprecedented. Beginning in the spring, we began to notice a sharp increase in the number of students requesting on-campus rooms, a trajectory that continued into the summer. The increase in demand appeared to be the result of a confluence of factors:

–Fewer housing cancellations. Drawing on data from the past five years, we had as many as 134 cancellations a year whereas this year, there were only 84.

–A drop in the number of students studying abroad. Over the past five years, we had as many as 73 students studying abroad during the fall semester whereas this year, there are only 46.

–High yield in admissions both in 2011 and 2012. The College intentionally admitted fewer students for this year’s incoming class but once again the number of applicants accepting Barnard’s offer of admission was a record high.

–More students opting to stay on campus instead of seeking off-campus housing, a trend shared by peer schools. This year, there are 53 more continuing students seeking housing than in 2010.

In response to the increase in demand, we tried several measures that we hoped would alleviate the shortfall prior to notifying waitlisted students of the problem. For example, we offered a reprieve on the housing cancellation fee, converted faculty housing to student housing, and sought rooms at schools and institutions throughout Manhattan. We thank the Provost’s office for generously providing us with several temporary apartments and Campus Services for joining in efforts to track down alternative options.

In late July, it became clear that these measures would not be enough. We then notified affected students of the shortage and encouraged them to start looking for alternative housing. As a result, several students found off-campus housing, which opened up spaces for others on campus. We thank these students for their efforts and acknowledge the frustration and anxiety that the uncertainty of the situation caused them.

As a final measure to address the shortfall, we had to make the difficult decision to convert corner rooms in Plimpton from singles to doubles. I assure you that this was not a solution that we implemented lightly, as we had either exhausted or ruled out all other feasible options. 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. We are incredibly grateful to them and to their suitemates for their understanding and their willingness to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. This was simply a last resort, an unprecedented action and a solution we did not come to easily.

As recently as 3 weeks ago there were over 80 students on the housing waiting list, which included transferring, readmitted and continuing students. I’m pleased to report that as of today, we have either offered or secured on-campus housing for approximately 90% of them. For the 9 students still awaiting assignments, we continue to make every effort to find housing. To that end, the Residential Life staff has been working around the clock, with the hope of accommodating every student.

I have received some questions about how moving off-campus impacts financial aid. This is not a simple question to answer because each student receives a package based on individual circumstances. The Office of Financial Aid takes into account many factors including whether that student lives on campus or commutes. The difference is usually that commuters will not receive grant aid for the housing portion of their financial aid packages, but they are able to apply for loans to cover those costs. We encourage students affected by this situation to work with the Financial Aid Office who can help with financial decisions for the short and long term.

I hope this information provides some clarity but recognize that it does not, in any way, diminish what we know many of you have experienced. We have heard your concerns and we are doing everything we can to address them. Moreover, we will continue to review our policies and practices, as well as housing options, to strive to avoid anything like this happening in the future. As always, I welcome your input as we move forward.


Dean Hinkson