A dozen years after opening on the IPFW campus, Purdue University’s first residence halls outside of West Lafayette are challenged to reach capacity.
With competition sprouting nearby, IPFW student housing has not achieved full occupancy since the last of the buildings opened in 2010, school officials say. Including financing costs, about $78 million is still owed on construction. Currently, the units are more than a quarter empty.
Faced with budget constraints, campus leaders hope to change that.
This fall, IPFW will begin managing the 13-building complex after severing ties with the management company it has used since the units first opened in 2004.
In addition, students who get housing money with their scholarship will be required to live on campus. That will be phased in over two years to accommodate students who began without the requirement.
The school also is considering converting one building into elderly housing and plans to implement 21-and-over housing in another, said Steve George, assistant director of physical plant fiscal affairs.
The canceled management agreement will save $200,000 a year. And an estimated 81 scholarship students have a housing component. Of those, 20 currently live in student housing, George said. The scholarship requirement would add 61 more students to the housing, bringing the occupancy rate closer to 80 percent.
The moves are consistent with other universities, George added.
"There’s a lot of universities that say, ‘You know, if we’re going to give you some housing we’d like you to stay here, have a good chance at being successful in whatever your endeavor is here and maybe hope for an increase in student culture,’" George said.
Purdue and Indiana universities run the school, with Purdue as the fiscal agent. But in December, trustees for both voted to split IPFW to focus on each university’s strengths. That divorce was proceeded by a focus on the school’s enrollment and budgeting woes. While the elimination of some academic programs drew protests as administrators looked to save money, housing also was under the microscope.
The University Strategic Alignment Process, an internal study released in May, called IPFW housing "not only an unnecessary burden on the finances of IPFW, but a missed opportunity related to retention and student success." The report suggested requiring freshmen or students receiving scholarships to live in campus housing, reviewing summer conference rental programs, or converting a building into an elder living facility.
Purdue trustees first approved funding for housing construction in 2002. The buildings were constructed in three phases, the first opening in 2004 and the last in 2010. The school expects to pay off the $78 million in construction costs by 2036, George said.
The complex offers a variety of floor options with up to four bedrooms. Capacity is 1,204 students.
"I’m thinking about all the places I lived when I was in college. These places are a lot nicer than any of those places," George said.
Freshman Devin Haumesser, 18, an accounting major, lives there and describes the apartments as "really nice compared to other big schools, like the universities, something like that." Students get their own bedrooms and living space, he said.
Taylor Kennedy, 18, a freshman education major, said the apartment-style dorms were the only reason she decided to enroll at IPFW, even though she knows of cheaper housing nearby.
The apartments ran at capacity until two nearby complexes opened just before the third phase was done, George said.
Campus housing and those other complexes are currently at about the same occupancy rate, said Eric Norman, chief student affairs officer.
"We’ve seen that tapered down over the past two or three years and that’s not necessarily a surprise," he said. "You’ve got greater volume and the economy’s improved and our enrollment has dropped a little bit here. So, all of that sort of influences things at the same time."
American Campus Communities, of Austin, Texas, has managed the complex since the beginning. It’s contract ends Sept. 30.
In a written statement, Steve Crawford, American Campus Communities senior vice president of management services, said the company worked closely with IPFW to develop an "exceptional residential experience."
"With all of the various budget challenges in the state of Indiana, this transition makes great sense and we wish them success in self-managing their residential program," he said.