By Ethan Brogan
INDIANA — A milestone will pass this fall at Indiana University of Pennsylvania when its last open-access dormitory will close its doors to student residents. Elkin Hall, a five-story “traditional residence hall” built in 1964 on School Street near Oakland Avenue to house more than 300 undergraduates, is being converted to administrative offices, university officials said.
Elkin will be remodeled to house the IUP Center for Student Life and the Multicultural Center, Michael W. Lemasters, IUP associate vice president of student affairs, said in an April 14 interview in Ruddock Hall. Newer residential housing is more attractive to prospective students, he explained.
“Visiting high-school students find the new suites more appealing,” Lemasters said.
Whitmyre Hall also is described in university literature as a traditional residence hall, but it will remain open — only to students in the Robert E. Cook Honors College, a school within a school that enrolls 100 freshmen a year and houses a fraction of the university’s 13,000-plus students.
The old dorms began to topple in 2006 when IUP’s Residential Revival Project began to build new apartment-style residential housing as enrollments rose. The project turned IUP from one of the least expensive campuses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to one of the most expensive at the time.
Then-IUP President Tony Atwater said the new suites were needed to recruit students among a college-age population that was projected to shrink in western Pennsylvania. Atwater described the effort as the largest student-housing-replacement project in the nation and estimated the cost at nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.
The loss of Elkin Hall means that most IUP freshmen have only one choice for campus housing, according to university regulations – the newer and more expensive suites. When they opened their doors, the cost of on-campus housing soared overnight.
During the 2007-2008 academic year, for example, IUP students paid $1,670 per semester to live in the five remaining traditional residence halls – the dorms. The new suites cost about twice as much. For comparable accommodations, the new suites ranged from $3,010 to $3,925 per semester, at least 80 percent and as much as 135 percent more than the dorms.
For the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year, the price for the same suite unit will rise to $4,150, an increase of as much as 38 percent in a decade – more than twice the rate of inflation — according to the IUP website.
IUP housing officials report that the freshman occupancy rate in campus residences rose to 88 percent in the 2015-2016 academic year, up from 80 percent in 2013-2014.
But some students say they have found a way to save on rent during their freshman year, when the university’s housing policy requires most students to live on campus.
Ashley N. Smith, 19, a sophomore business-management major during the 2015-2016 academic year, used her parents’ address in Ligonier to win commuter status, allowing her to live off campus during her freshman year.
“I didn’t want to live on campus,” Smith said in an April 26 interview at her Copper Beech townhouse in White Township. “No one ever looked into it.”
Campus residency rules require freshmen to live on campus, with some exceptions. One exception is commuting no more than 35 miles from the home of a student’s parents or guardian. A web-based mapping program puts the mileage from Ligonier to Indiana at 36.8 miles.
A year later, Smith’s high-school friend Nicole A. Wissinger, 19, a freshman accounting major, followed Smith’s example and avoided living on campus in her freshman year.
“It was way too expensive to live in the dorms,” Wissinger said, in a phone interview June 26.
Ethan C. Brogan a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania is from Pittsburgh.