I believe that when we talk about over-crowding in our residence halls we need to address the issue from different perspectives. A Residence Hall Director has a different set of responsibilities and a different perspective than, say, the person responsible for assigning rooms. Both of those people have different responsibilities and different perspectives than the CHO, who is responsible for managing the department and the process.
I thought, therefore, that I would try to shed some light on the difficult issue of over-crowding by looking at the different levels of responsibilities and perspectives.
RESIDENCE HALL DIRECTOR: The RHD is the professional who deals directly with the reality of 3 people moving into a room designed for 2. The RHD is the person who speaks first with parents and students at the moment of “move-in.” The RHD is the first person to receive the complaints about furniture, closets, and floor space. After “move-in,” the RHD is the one who consistently deals with the roommate conflicts and community building issues. RHD’s can often become frustrated and they often feel like none of the decision makers really understand the impact of their decisions. Sometimes they believe that they are the only people who really care about the students.
Thoughts for the RHD:
• It will help if you gain some understanding of the “bigger picture.” The more you can understand about the Admissions process, institutional goals and other political realities, the better you can deal with the difficulties attached to the end result, over-crowding. Ask questions of your supervisor if that information is not forthcoming.
• Make sure your supervisor understands the specific issues with which you are dealing. Be clear in your communications, but do not become a complainer. While people who make decisions need to know the realities as you know them, you are expected to handle your responsibilities and you will be judged by how well you handle the challenges.
• Never place blame on another department! Enrollment management is an institutional issue and decisions are made on that level. If you feel that too many “freshmen” are admitted and that’s the problem and if you make that view known to others, it will not work well for you. Blaming other departments shows a lack of knowledge about the “bigger picture” and I think it shows a lack of professional maturity. In addition, it can reflect poorly on your department and on your supervisor. Just remember what rolls downhill!
• Everything is a challenge and attitude is everything. You’ll be surprised what you can learn about yourself and the issues at hand when you attack overcrowding from a positive perspective.
ROOM ASSIGNMENTS COORDINATOR: Yours can be a particularly complicated position when over-crowding occurs in the residence halls. On the one hand, your primary responsibility is to see that room assignments occur in a fair and timely manner. On the other hand, sometimes the rules are being changed in an untimely way without much input from you. Those who are making decisions seem to be talking in terms of beds and you are trying to work in terms people. It can be incredibly frustrating.
Thoughts for the Room Assignments Coordinator:
• You need to understand your role. It is to actualize the decisions that are being made at other levels, keeping in mind the needs and desires of the students. Translation: Your job is to try to keep the students as happy as possible and anticipate changes and consequences before they happen.
• Accept the fact that the rules change when there is over-crowding. Capacities can change in a heartbeat! Beds come and go from rooms overnight. Yours is to try to keep students together and meet their needs as best you can.
• Try to be as flexible as you can. Changes will come anyway and you’ll handle them better if you are a little flexible and have a sense of humor.
CHO: Your role in managing the over-crowding depends on your role in the enrollment management process. In some cases, CHO’s are involved at the highest levels in making enrollment decisions. In most cases, I suspect, while they may have some input into the institutional decisions, they are pivotal in creating solutions once the dye is cast. This has certainly been true in my case. My university has been “reaping a bumper crop” for well over ten years, and our over-crowding has been due to both the increase in yield of new students and our high retention rates for returning students.
Thoughts for CHO’s:
• Know your numbers: attrition rates, capacities, and future enrollment projections. I’ve found that having these updated and ready has “saved me” many times.
• Keep your supervisors updated on what the numbers are telling you and any changes that you believe may be coming. Your role is to anticipate change before it happens and present solutions and not problems.
• Make sure your staff has an understanding of what decisions are being made and what needs to be done. They will respond much better and be more effective with parents and students if they have knowledge. Often our staffs have “ethical” issues with institutional decisions. It is critical that you be aware of their concerns and that you counsel them on how to address them and be supportive at the same time. If you don’t, they may find other avenues to express themselves. That can be dangerous.
All in all, I think managing over-crowding is pretty much like managing any other crisis. The more you know, the better you plan and the greater your ability to predict the future, the more successful you will be.
Submitted by Carol T. Boucher, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Residential Life, Quinnipiac University