Housing to levy $350 fee for canceled room assignments

The University will implement an automatic $350 cancellation fee for students who drop housing assignments starting this spring, as a way to curtail a housing waitlist that has swelled in recent years.

Juniors and seniors will now receive an immediate $350 fine for letting go of an assignment in the first five days after receiving it, a fee that will rise to $700 during the following 32 days.

Over the last five years, since a cancellation fee was first imposed, housing has offered a penalty-free five-day window and a $350 fine thereafter.

Seth Weinshel, the director of GW housing programs, said the point of escalating cancellation fees was to deter upperclassmen from applying for on-campus housing if they don’t plan to accept it. Students can still cancel without receiving a fine by rescinding their applications before upperclassman assignments are sent out March 28.

Without a penalty, Weinshel said students tended to apply for housing to keep options open, even if they planned to live off-campus.

About 100 upperclassmen who dropped their housing after receiving assignments last spring received their first choices.

“Our thought is: If you’re a junior or a senior and your first preference is Ivory Tower, and you get Ivory Tower with the people you want to live with and all four of you cancel, there is nothing we could have done that would have kept you on campus,” Weinshel said. “So why did you apply in the first place?”

For the last two years, more than 700 students were waitlisted for on-campus housing. In spring 2011, the waitlist was not cleared until after finals.

Even though all students who requested housing were eventually assigned rooms in both cases, Weinshel said University officials agreed there was a need to “better manage” the process of assigning residence halls.

“We hope that, with these new policies, the waitlist isn’t going to be as big,” Weinshel said, “because those students who don’t really want to live on campus that would have applied because there was no penalty simply won’t apply.”

Money raised through cancellation fees will continue to be used to support residential programs and operations.

In another change from past years, upperclassmen will no longer be allowed to swap into sophomore dorms or “pull in” sophomores as roommates in junior or senior-level residence halls like Ivory Tower and Amsterdam Hall.

Since GW launched its online housing assignment portal in 2007, 60 to 90 sophomores have been pulled into upperclassman residence halls each year. That tally jumps up by an additional 100 sophomores after they swap assignments with older students, who then give up their slots in favor of off-campus housing.

Living and Learning Cohorts, a 13-year-old program that allows each group to complete a funded experiential learning project, will also be eliminated to streamline options for group housing.

Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller credits the program’s popularity in recent years to its status as the only means for students to live together in groups, as well as to obtain rooms in certain dorms, such as The Dakota and Building JJ.

But with the addition of affinity housing last spring, which allows GW-recognized student groups to live together in certain residence halls without a defined learning goal, Miller said the introduction of a second option has pushed out LLCs.

“Over the years, popularity in LLCs has gone up and down,” Miller said. “There hasn’t been a decline in LLCs, just a rise in affinity housing.”

About 20 to 30 LLCs have existed each year, with 10 to 30 students living in each LLC this year. In the past, some have had as few as four members.

The LLC budget was cut in half last year after the majority of organizations failed to use funds set aside for them.

Sophomore Jordan Halevy, head coordinator for a LLC on diversity in the arts, said he anticipated the dissolution of the housing option, blaming it on a lack of “student engagement” that meant many LLCs didn’t accomplish their prescribed goals.

“I guess it hasn’t been as effective as where [the University’s] standards [for LLCs] are, which is maybe why they’re taking LLCs out of the equation,” Halevy said.

The arts LLC brought members to free shows at the Kennedy Center and plans to teach dance lessons at the School Without Walls this semester.

Residence halls that previously housed LLC will be filled with affinity housing next academic year. Miller also said he will consider allocating some of the leftover LLC funds to affinity groups if requested.

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