The University of Wisconsin-Madison is grappling with the dilemma of swelling class sizes but having nowhere to house students, creating a roadblock when it comes to new growth for the university.
Public universities are ever-changing and growing, and UW-Madison is no exception. The constant pressure to continue to expand tends to create many obstacles for the school. More students not only means more diversity for the school, but also more people to house and fit into classes.
In the fall of 2019, total undergraduate enrollment was just over 31,000 students — 1,000 more than the year prior, according to an enrollment report from the Office of the Registrar.
According to University Housing, on-campus student housing can fit about 8,000 students in total — not large enough to fit one-third of the undergraduate student population. UW-Madison's housing capacity is 28% smaller than the Big 10 average. All Big 10 universities except UW-Madison guarantee on-campus housing for freshmen, as stated in the 2004-20 Master Plan for the university.
As a result of this overpopulation, many students get placed into makeshift housing. In the past two years, some freshmen were placed into makeshift living situations as a way to accommodate this problem.
Construction on Sellery Hall began in 2020 and is set to be finished in the summer of 2023, according to University Housing. They are building a new link to connect the two towers of Sellery on all floors, including updated elevators and floor lounges in this central section. A new resident floor will also be added to the top of the building to compensate for resident rooms displaced by the renovations and accommodate undergraduate enrollment growth.
Large freshman class sizes mean that students living in the dorms will be looking for off-campus housing for the following year. This can cause great strain on all students looking for affordable and accessible housing. As many returning students have grown to know, leasing apartments in Madison starts early in the fall — the year prior to them moving in — for popular off-campus locations.
A sophomore living in off-campus housing, who wished to remain anonymous, had a time-consuming experience securing housing for the upcoming school year. She and her roommates tried to apply to Aberdeen Apartments, a complex close to campus, but that did not turn out the way they hoped.
“Well, we tried to get Aberdeen and that fell through because they had like, over 1000 applicants within like, two minutes of it opening,” she said.
After the initial disappointment, they heard that a known realtor's office, J. Michael Real Estate, was opening their leases the next day. The office told them they were allowed to apply starting at 9 a.m. and that it was first come first serve. To prepare, she arrived at the office early the next morning — only to be greeted by the sight of a very large line.
“We got there right at 7:30 a.m.” she said. “And there was already a line, I think of like 30 to 40 people in front of us.”
Some students in line had been there since 10 a.m. the day before, opting to sleep on the sidewalk overnight.
There are currently no plans for future on-campus housing according to the current campus master plan. UW Housing Director of Marketing and Communications Brendon Dybdahl said University Housing is actively working with its partners at the UW System and State Department of Administration to find a solution. Still, this process may take at least a few years.