Campus housing waitlist causes panic among students

As of March 19, over 450 students have been waitlisted for on-campus housing in the 2024-2025 academic year.  

To Bryant Barnett, executive director of residential living, the waitlist is bittersweet. “I understand why there’s disappointment,” Barnett said, “You wish you could make everybody happy, but it’s not ever possible in anything that you do.” 

Room selection times were assigned to students based on a lottery. There was no way to change your place in line, even if you have approved accessibility resources. 

A student, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the discussion of their health issues, felt betrayed by the action. They contemplated whether WCU was worth it after finding out this news. 

“I never even stopped to consider that WCU would go out of its way to exclude disabled upperclassmen from housing,” the student said.

The student receives a private room due to sensory needs and uses mobility aid because of chronic pain. Because of their chronic pain they do not feel safe driving, hence why they live on campus. 

Though some apartments provide shuttles, the student does not know how they could afford a studio or one-bedroom apartment. 

“If I don’t get off the waitlist, I’ll try to find a studio apartment and just hope I can pass my classes, even with larger amounts of missed attendance and lower quality of life,” the student said. 

“You try to create as fair of a process as possible and if those students are on the waitlist and get moved up then we would work with them to meet their accommodation,” Barnett said, “as far as jumping the waitlist, off-campus meets those same accommodations with proper medical documentation. We can’t let someone jump up based on housing accommodations.” 

Seth Blumenfeld is a second-year student at WCU. He found out about the waitlist after he signed his housing agreement and was notified that he was put on the list. 

“I feel like I was really underinformed, I feel like the university did not do a good job of reaching out to students and saying, ‘hey here’s what’s going on, here’s how you should prepare,’” Blumenfeld said. 

Because of the three new dorms constructed, Blumenfeld didn’t think he’d have to worry about finding an apartment. 

For Barnett, trying to reach students has been a top priority. 

“We started communicating back in November with emails, postcards, all those sorts of things. Some things go home, some go to student mailboxes,” Barnett said. 

Residential living is trying their best to find better ways to get students’ attention and notify them of the change. 

“That’s one of my questions – What could we have done better to make you aware? And typically, most folks say, ‘I should’ve read,’” Barnett said, “that’s not the answer I want. I’d love for somebody to be able to tell me how to solve the issue.” 

For some there’s confusion behind the purpose of Policy 96 and whether it helps or hinders students. 

Madison Melton is a third-year student who has lived in the same room in Buchanan her whole WCU career. 

“I’ve been here for three years, and I get waitlisted? That’s not fair,” Melton said, “No offense to the freshmen that are coming in but y’all haven’t had the tenure that comes with being a student here.” 

Nearly all public universities in North Carolina require first-year students to live on campus. WCU became one of a few that required second-year students to live on campus when Policy 96 was enacted in 2014. 

For many waitlisted students, it doesn’t seem right that second-year students who do not want to live on campus are taking space from those who do. 

Barnett feels differently. He believes waitlisted students have a support network that second-year students lack.

“You’re not a brand-new student who everybody is focusing on and you’re not a junior or senior student getting ready to graduate. You can get lost in the shuffle,” Barnett explained, “we try to focus support on those students that just typically need the most support.” 

The biggest goal of Policy 96 is improving student retention. After COVID, WCU experienced a dramatic fall in retention with many students transferring or dropping out. 

“We sit down every year and say, ‘are we going to continue holding these folks to the second year or are we not?’ Everyone sat down this year and looked and said, ‘yeah we’ve seen a significant increase in retention since we started,’” Barnett said. 

The largest concern waitlisted students have expressed is the practicality of an apartment. For a lot of students paying monthly rent, finding reliable transportation and securing roommates is something they have not planned for and don’t know how to navigate. 

Every student has different needs and Barnett expressed that residential living still wants to help students by offering resources and advice for finding an apartment that can suit students’ needs. 

“The student affairs office works closely with off-campus apartments, as they do every year, to do off-campus housing fairs for apartments,” Barnett suggested. 

“A big thing every time we go to a waitlist that students don’t understand is that financial aid gives you money based on your projected cost of attendance. The housing and dining don’t go out of that calculation when it’s not on campus,” Barnett said.