WEB UPDATE: Computerized assignment system to take over housing selection

Posted Saturday, Jan. 6, 12:08 a.m.

The New Year is bringing a new housing selection process for returning students that will more closely resemble the way rising freshmen receive rooms.

The lottery system, whereby students chose available rooms during time slots governed by randomly assigned numbers, is being replaced by an assignment system called iHousing. A computer program will make assignments based on individual preferences of buildings, room sizes and roommates.

Under the new system, students can get housing without having to completely fill a room, but there is no complete guarantee that friends will be placed together. The class designations for certain buildings are also changing, and there will be significantly fewer singles available next year.

Seth Weinshel, assignments director of GW Housing Programs, said the overhauled process should benefit students because they will no longer agonize over rooms being taken before selection times.

“We are extremely excited and optimistic about the process,” Weinshel said Wednesday. “We have heard for many, many years that the old process was stressful – that students would sit at their computers for hours and watch rooms disappear … This should really take the stress out for students.”

Students unhappy with what the computer system gives them cannot simply ask for a different assignment.

Those unsatisfied with their room but wish to stay in University property will need to find another student to directly swap rooms with, Weinshel said. Sophomores have to live on campus, but juniors and seniors can opt to back out of GW housing. If a rising third or fourth-year student does not like the assignment and wants to move off campus, he can cancel the license agreement without a penalty fee before April 2 and with a $300 charge before May 4.

Web-based preference forms

Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors will have five-day periods starting in mid-February to complete an online form, and the University will notify them of their assignments March 27. The Web page will ask students to rank their ideal housing situations in preference groupings – comprised of the preferred residence hall’s name and room size. Students can specify both, or they can limit their preference to just the building or room type, which would make their choice easier for the computer system to meet.

For example, the first preference for a rising senior could be a double in 1959 E Street, the second preference could be a single in any building and the third preference could be any room type in Ivory Tower. Students can write in as many preference groupings as they want, which housing officials highly recommend.

A separate part of the form deals with roommate preferences. Unlike in past years, when students could only obtain housing by filling each bed in a room, the new system will place people with similar characteristics in unfilled rooms. In addition to asking who a student wants to live with, the online form also asks about a dozen personal questions about things such as tidiness, social atmosphere of the room and sharing personal items.

A student can mark one or several questions as “critical,” Weinshel said. Doing this means that any randomly placed roommates have to provide the same response to such a question. “It’s really meant to take what’s important to that person into effect … It’s individual housing,” Weinshel said.

Although the first preference the system looks at is placing students who want to live together in the same room, unlike in the old process, it is not guaranteed.

“It will do everything it can to not break up friends or roommate groupings,” Weinshel said. “Obviously there is the possibility that roommate groups may be broken up based on what the University has in housing.”

If breaking up a group of friends occurs, those ranked at the top of the list are less likely to be split off from the group living in the assigned room.

Weinshel said that if students completely fill out the online form and include as many preferences as possible, it is more likely they will be assigned what they want. “The more information that they give to … GW Housing Programs, the better chance we’ll have of accommodating their request,” he said.

Class-based residences

GW Housing Programs is switching the classes that will be able to live in several residence halls. Fulbright Hall and Potomac House – both formerly freshman buildings – will be for sophomores because Fulbright has a full kitchen and Potomac House is less than a year old. Madison and Crawford halls will go from second to first-year student living because they are older and lack kitchens. Also, Francis Scott Key will move down from junior to sophomore housing.

These transitions are emblematic of the University’s goal of offering similar housing options for each class, with students experiencing an upgrade each year.

“By doing this we are setting up some good expectations, and setting (each class’) buildings apart from each other,” Weinshel said. With the class-based system, he added, “You work your way up.”

Another reason for designating housing options by year is that the University offers different services and programming for each class, with seniors having the most independent living arrangements. “By assigning students of the same year to live together, it allows the community to build naturally,” Weinshel added.

Although buildings are intended for specific classes, it is still possible to have “pull-ins,” in which a student of a different year can bring friends into his room. However, students living in buildings designated for other classes could be constrained by the new system. Pull-ins won’t be as simple as typing in a younger or older friend’s housing number under the old lottery system; it is just one of several preferences considered by the computer program, which evaluates student preferences in the aggregate.

Weinshel said the number of people doing this was a small minority. Only about 5 to 10 percent of students living in GW residences were pulled up or pulled down last year.

Behind the process change

The Residence Hall Association, a student group that works with GW Housing Programs, offered advice to administrators on the new assignment system, said RHA President Hayley Haldeman. She said the squatting system, which allows rising seniors to choose to remain in their housing assignments for another year, will remain in place next year at the request of RHA activists.

“We have served as a launching board for many of the policies GW Housing is taking,” Haldeman, a sophomore, said. “(We) had a lot of say in formulating this process.”

She added that she is optimistic about the system and that it is used successfully at many other universities. There will be less anxiety compared with the lottery system because filling out the online preferences form will take less time than making complex arrangements with friends on selection days, Haldeman said.

Both Haldeman and Weinshel said other prominent universities have had successful housing programs with similar assignment systems and with keeping buildings class-specific. New York University keeps their second-year students in “clusters” within Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, the housing director said.

“In a lot of other universities, class unity between the dorms is a lot more stressed,” Haldeman said. “School spirit is something that is traditionally lacking at GW, and that is something they’re trying to bring back with this system … I think it will turn out well and hopefully students won’t be that perturbed about it.”

Smaller supply of singles

The Aston, a University-owned building on New Hampshire Avenue between L and M streets, will be restricted to graduate housing next academic year.

Because of a zoning agreement pushing student residences toward the center of the Foggy Bottom campus, the 115 Aston singles cannot legally be used for undergraduates. The same set of development constraints made last spring the final semester for freshmen to reside in the Hall on Virginia Avenue. HOVA is now used as graduate housing.

Due to this change, juniors will not be able to live in any singles for the upcoming school year. There are also considerably fewer options for seniors, who can live on the first floor of Mitchell Hall or in a “handful” of spaces in buildings around campus, Weinshel said.

“Singles will be very limited this year, and that’s just what we have as an inventory right now … Obviously we’d love to be able to have more singles,” Weinshel said.

The F Street residence hall to be built behind the School Without Walls is set to have single suites – four one-person bedrooms, two bathrooms and a common kitchen and living room. Having just received its zoning approval at the end of 2006, the building won’t be ready for several years.

Alternatives to the assignment process

Rising seniors can stay in their current room next year and pull underclassmen into most buildings under the squatters’ rights policy. The number of students able to squat will be reduced to 300, Weinshel said, meaning that applying to keep one’s room does not automatically guarantee getting it again.

Students living in singles cannot squat and neither can those who want to participate in the Focus on Fall Abroad Community.

The program, which is in its second year, allows students who study abroad in the fall to live in New Hall or City Hall in the spring. Those who sign up will see other advantages, such as priority registration for spring semester classes and discounted tuition while abroad.

Weinshel said Focus on Fall Abroad helps the University fill the vacancies from the larger number of students who opt to study abroad in the spring, and it allows newly repatriated students to adjust to American living.

“We’re pretty excited about the program,” Weinshel said. “(It) lets those students come back and get acclimated together as a community.”

Informational resources

GW Housing Programs will hold information sessions throughout the spring semester to discuss the new assignment process. Officials said residence hall tours, information tables and the department’s Web site are other resources for learning more.

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