Although local leaders want them, state law means new dorms are unlikely to be the answer to the student housing problem at Maryland. In response to our question about alleviating the student housing crunch on our city council special election candidate survey, District 3 candidate Stephanie Stullich and District 4 candidates Mary Cook and Russell Scarato all mentioned new dormitories as part of their answers.
New dorms are thought of as unlikely because state law demands dorms be self-supporting. Official University policy on student housing explains in more detail:
Residence Halls, the Graduate Apartments, and dining halls must be self-supported by mandate of the General Assembly. No State or University funding is received, so student fees must be sufficient to pay all expenses including utilities, facilities renewal, plant maintenance and construction debts. In addition, the affected departments (Resident Life, Graduate Apartments, Dining Services) must pay a percentage of expenses to the University as overhead.
The effect of the law is that the University itself — or a private partner — must bear the debt burden to construct any new dorms. The last residence hall (suites) the university built by itself was New Leonardtown in 1982. The last traditional dormitory they built was La Plata Hall in 1968!
Since then the university has partnered with private developers to build the 1825 bed South Campus Commons and the 700 bed University Courtyards. In 2005, the Diamondback reported university officials were optimistic they would be able to finance a new dorm on North Campus that would house 500 students. However, since then the Board of Regents denied funding for construction.
The trend away from state supported housing has been hugely problematic – especially since a lot of the demand comes from freshman wanting traditional dormitories without kitchens (not conducive to a public-private partnership) thus pushing older students off-campus. In the mid-90′s, 50% of freshmen sought on-campus housing. Now it’s over 90%.