Dorms at the College of Charleston will be packed this year, with some students tripling up in rooms meant for two.
The college, like many schools nationwide, has a shortage of dorm space and is struggling to accommodate 154 freshmen who paid their $200 housing deposits by the May 1 deadline, said Jeri Cabot, interim executive vice president for student affairs.
Students who have to triple up will get a discount - a third off the normal charge, which ranges from $5,694 to $9,778 per year per person depending on the dorm room. But they'll be living in cramped quarters since the dorm rooms were intended to house two students, or be assigned to room with a resident assistant. Freshman are strongly encouraged by the college to live in a dorm but have the option of living off-campus if they can find an affordable apartment.
To ease the crunch, Cabot said the school will convert the largest rooms dedicated to freshmen in the seven dorms to the triples. Each will get their own desk, but space will be tight, with some sleeping in bunk beds and belongings squeezed into closets intended for two people.
"We're trying to keep freshmen in the freshman halls," Cabot said. "That's what they want."
Research shows that freshmen perform better academically, and they adjust better to campus life, if they live on campus, she said.
There's been a wide range of reactions from students selected to be in triple rooms and their parents, Cabot said.
Most said they understood the college was doing the best it could. There was only a handful of disgruntled students and parents, she said.
Several factors contributed to the housing crunch this year, Cabot said. First, the Rutledge Rivers dorm, which can house 109 students, is closed for renovations. And, she said, more upperclassmen than expected chose to remain in campus housing this year.
Older students pay their deposits, and reserve their dorm space, by Feb. 1, Cabot said. Every year, however, many of them decide afterward that they don't what to live on campus.
It's known as "the summer melt," she said. But this year, fewer upperclassmen than expected decided to opt out of campus housing.
The college has 3,221 spaces available for on-campus housing this year.
"We're going to have to have a discussion about the number of spaces available to our upper-class students," Cabot said.
Doug Hallenback, executive director of housing at Clemson University, said his school also is facing a housing crunch this year. It has space for 6,100 students, but it's scrambling to find room for about 150 freshmen.
Hallenback said college housing is cramped nationwide as "more and more students and more and more parents are seeing the value of living on campus."
It's more convenient, safer and more economical overall, because students don't need cars, he said.
According to a 2013 report in USA Today, "forced triples" is a relatively common way colleges and universities deal with on-campus housing shortages.
Cabot said the college had a similar problem in 2011, when it had to find space for 300 students because of a larger than expected freshmen class.