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University of Missouri

Full House

Residential Life plans for growth.

overhead view of students walking to class

Students fill the sidewalks as they head to class, passing by the MU Student Center. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

When Frankie Minor arrived on campus in 1994, enrollment stood at 22,136, and Mizzou hadn’t built a residence hall in nearly 30 years. “Not long before that, people had tossed around the idea of downsizing the university to 16,000 students,” says Minor, director of Residential Life. “But look at where we are now.” After a decade of record-breaking enrollment, Mizzou has 34,748 students in fall 2012.

graph showing enrollment at Mizzou from 1850 through 2012

Although Minor believes that higher education should be available to the masses, Mizzou’s steadily growing enrollments are making it tough for him to shelter all of the freshman class, which is required to live on campus. What’s more, the days of “dorm” living — a bed in a cinder-block cube — are over. Today’s residence halls are living-learning communities designed and staffed to offer lots of opportunities for social and academic growth. In fall 2012, MU offered 6,281 undergraduate beds on campus.

line of cars

Despite the rush-hour appearance of Rollins Street, right, a typical student’s move into an MU residence hall is a well-ordered shift from home to college life. Photo by Rob Hill.

To accommodate the freshman class, Minor leased 450 beds at Campus View apartments, south of campus off Providence Road, and renamed them Tiger Diggs. The units operate as residence halls, with all the usual staff and programs. Still, more than a thousand upperclassmen who requested on-campus housing were turned away, and transfer students are not even offered rooms. The unmet demand could be as high as 3,600 beds.

With future enrollment remaining stable or growing for the foreseeable future, a new version of Residential Life’s master plan is kicking into gear. In July 2012, the University of Missouri Board of Curators approved Minor’s request to build a 330-bed residence hall east of University Hospital. Virginia Avenue South, a five-story, $30.3 million project scheduled for completion in April 2015, is just one step toward meeting students’ demand for on-campus housing.

1960s-era dorm rooms

Rooms in Lewis and Clark halls, built in 1964. Photos courtesy of MU Archives: uw 4/31/1.

Options include:

  • Renovating or replacing Jones, Lathrop and Laws halls. Renovation would freshen interior finishes, improve mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, yet leave the layout largely intact. Replacing the halls could increase capacity by up to 306 beds. Costs for these options range from $74.4 million for renovation to $127.1 million for replacement.
  • Renovating Manor House apartments at 306 Hitt St. to make necessary improvements. Options for renovation at Manor House include renovating the building as apartments or reconfiguring it as a residence hall. Costs for these options are nearly identical at $8.7 million and $8.8 million, respectively.

The plan offers options for replacing or renovating all residence halls and increasing capacity by approximately 1,000 beds. Those rooms, amenities, staffing and programs for students are a far cry from the bare-bones dorms of yesteryear. Students shopping for colleges want more of a “good life” vibe in their surroundings, and the university thinks residence halls should be sites of academic and social learning. The attractive environment helps recruit students, and the programming is calculated to give undergraduates a good start.

Mizzou dorm room from the 1950s

In the 1950s, campus housing was little more than room and board. A reading lamp, desk and bed were the only necessities needed in Defoe Hall. Photo courtesy of MU Archives c:1/81/1.

Wants and Needs

When many of us went to college, we ate a lot of mac and cheese and sat around on used furniture, Minor says. “It was a rite of passage to sacrifice during college for the payoff of getting the degree and a full-time job. But today, students want it now — the smartphone, the 60-inch plasma TV, the high-end furnishings.”

students sit in the parlor of Johnston Hall

Social areas such as the parlor in Johnston Hall were considered an adequate home base for students. Photo courtesy of MU Archives c:1/81/1.

The good life comes at a price. Minor projects a 4 percent annual increase in housing costs until the planned construction wraps up in 2020, then 3 percent increases. That compares favorably with peer institutions’ increases during the past decade. He says Nebraska’s rates went up 5.5 percent, Colorado 6.1 percent, Kentucky 7.1 percent and Alabama 8 percent. “So, yes, our rates are going up 4 percent, but we don’t have people calling and complaining about the cost of housing. What they’re calling about is, ‘Why can’t my child live on campus?’ ”

Minor and his staff keep close tabs on students’ desires. All residence halls have wireless Internet access, of course, and students can even arrange to receive a text message when their laundry cycle has ended. But it’s a balancing act, Minor says. “The Rolling Stones said it best, ‘You can’t always get what you want,’ but sometimes you get what you need.” What do students need to grow?

two male students hanging out in residence hall room

Today’s residence hall rooms reflect a variety of occupants’ styles. Suite-style living in Dogwood Hall attracted Chad Phillips and Jonathan Hamacker. Photo by Rachel Coward.

Living and Learning

female student in residence hall room with purple walls

Custom wall color is available such as in the Johnston Hall room of Lauren Viets. Photo by Rachel Coward.

Although providing beds is still a critical role for residence halls, administrators also include learning along with the living. Lesson No. 1 is how to get along with others. When speaking with families of incoming freshmen, Minor breaks it to them that single rooms are for upperclassmen. About 97 percent of freshmen had their own room at home, and about 60 percent had their own bathroom. He tells parents that learning to share a space will be a new and valuable experience for their children. “They’ll be learning to compromise, negotiate differences and deal with people who are annoying to you — I joke that it’s good practice for marriage,” Minor says. “But it’s also about how to be part of a larger community. We’re preparing our students to be active, engaged citizens and giving them practice doing that in residence halls.”

four female students in residence hall room

Community is encouraged in halls such as College Avenue where, from left, Julia Boudreau, Janee Harrell, India Wells and Jordan Tatman gather. Photo by Rachel Coward.

In recent years, residence hall living and academics have been linked, Minor says. For instance, students can live in the same hallway with others sharing their academic major, an arrangement that puts like-minded colleagues close by. Other groups of students form around broader themes, such as leadership, or people and culture. The groupings create a sense of community and make it easier to collaborate on studies and projects. The residence halls are designed not only with places for small groups to gather but also regular classrooms. More than 100 sections of various courses meet in these classrooms each year.

What Remains

Residence halls might look fancier than alumni recall, Minor says. But some things haven’t changed. Most alumni think fondly of their time in residence halls. “They enjoy remembering the shenanigans, friends, activities. What hasn’t changed is the sense of friendship and community and camaraderie that alumni experienced back in their Spartan residence halls. Students are still meeting each other, forming relationships. Those things are still going on. They are timeless.”

More: Mark Twain Hall Gets a Redo

Correction: This story was revised to reflect the Residential Life Master Plan’s options for renovating and replacing residence halls.