Students have officially finished the first full week of the Spring semester and can be seen getting re-acclimated to the college lifestyle. Unless, that is, one is standing on the third floor of Igoe Hall.
“Right now, Igoe, third floor — there is no one living up there.” said Director of Residence Life Kathy Forster.
After hosting the biggest Fall Open House since 2011, Fredonia seemed optimistic about enrollment. Unfortunately, any potential results from the event will not be seen until next semester. The reality of the situation is that enrollment is down and not enough students are living on campus to completely fill Igoe Hall, so the top floor remains vacant.
Many factors can be attributed to the vacancy, according to Forster.
“Enrollment has declined for many, many reasons … which has a direct impact on my residence halls because if they’re not coming to school here, then they’re not living in the residence halls,” said Forster.
The list includes the retention of freshmen, high school graduation rates and families moving out of New York State, which is Fredonia’s primary source of recruitment.
According to Forster, freshman numbers in the residence halls remain consistently between 1,050 and 1,100 new, first-year students. While the recruiting of freshmen doesn’t appear to be the problem, it’s what happens after recruitment that is affecting the residency numbers.
“My first year numbers remain constant. It’s the retention of those classes, first year classes in our residence hall, which is declining,” Forster explained.
In total, the bed capacity across Fredonia’s residence halls is around 2,900, but right now the number of students living on campus is 2,200.
Forster, who has been with Residence Life since 1991 and the director since 2014, has seen this before. To her, this is just something that happens at colleges, but the decisions that come with it are difficult to make. Since all funding for the department comes directly from room rentals, saving money in a time like this is essential.
“So, what do I do?” Forster asked. “If I have a floor close in Igoe Hall, I don’t have to have janitorial assistance up there, I don’t have to have RAs up there, I don’t have to have cleaners up there. We can reduce the electric expense.”
It appears that leaving residential halls empty is the lesser of evils when it comes to cutting costs and saving money.
“Theoretically, I could have consolidated another hall, but I don’t like to move students mid-year if they don’t want to move and we weren’t at that crisis point yet,” Forster admitted.
The third floor will see the return of students next semester when Hendrix Hall will sit completely unoccupied instead. It seems they will make the most of this misfortune as they plan to renovate Hendrix Hall next year while the building is vacant, specifically replacing the old windows. Although the entire building won’t be closed, there will be no students living there.
“I need to be as cost effective as possible,” Forster said.
Forster is prepared to close more than just Hendrix next year if it comes down to that.
“I don’t want to have to lay off personnel. So closing a hall, I would reduce my grad assistant director which saves this department money because I don’t have to pay their tuition cost, I don’t have to pay their stipend,” Forster said.
She defended her reluctance to let any staff members go by explaining the importance of their role here on campus.
“They’re on duty on the weekends. They’re on duty during the week. They’re on call all the time … I don’t want to leave any student at risk if I don’t have personnel to assist with health and safety issues,” Forster said.
Finally, Forster also said that she definitely did not want to raise the rates of living on campus, because she understands that college is already expensive and she admitted that Fredonia needs to remain competitive with other schools.
Forster’s experience at Fredonia over the years leaves her optimistic for the future.
“We did see this happen in the past, we were able to rebound from that. There are a lot of people looking at the numbers,” she said. “Admissions is being proactive in respect to accepting students quicker and offering them a more comprehensive scholarship package.”
While agreeing that colleges go through dips in numbers, like this, frequently, Forster admitted that this particular lapse in enrollment might last awhile due to the recruitment population being at a low.