Nearly 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as families of students, live in campus housing provided by the University. In population and infrastructure, University Housing represents a small residential city comprising nearly 5 million square feet, including 16 residence halls, 1480 apartment units and a cooperative house, plus seven dining halls and several residential cafes. Next fall, we’ll open the first new residence hall in more than 40 years: the North Quadrangle Residential and Academic Complex. Add a new dining hall to that, too.

The residential experience for the University is far more than the provision of spaces for sleeping and eating. It is the commitment to welcoming, safe, diverse communities that support and develop students’ academic, social and intellectual capabilities, preparing them to pursue life with passion, dignity and purpose. The facilities, services and programs behind that commitment require tremendous resources, responsibility and undertaking.

It requires a regular employee base of approximately 650 skilled and dedicated people to operate and sustain this campus city — in facilities maintenance, food services, resident services and support, security, room assignments and contracts, student accounts, technology and network services, planning and design, parking and grounds, administrative and business services. And throughout its operations, University Housing employs nearly 2,000 students annually for vital support in residential services and programs. Housing’s total compensation to student staff this year is approximately $7.5 million — helping many finance their Michigan education.

University Housing is a self-funded auxiliary unit within the Division of Student Affairs. Housing receives no revenue from tuition or state funding. Practically all its operating revenue is derived from student room and board and apartment rental fees, making operating budget and rates completely interconnected. Consequently, each year as we examine the costs of Housing operations and develop budgets for the next fiscal year, we must be good stewards of our students’ resources, specifically their room and board fees and their Northwood Community Apartment rent fees.

With the participation of residential students, we have worked diligently over the past years to reduce operating expenses in order to recommend frugal room and board rates, without sacrificing key services and programs for the residential experience. Since fiscal year 2006, University Housing has achieved $7.9 million in cost reductions that have helped keep room and board rates as low as possible.

This year, the Board of Regents approved a room and board average rate increase of three percent for academic year 2010-2011, of which one percent would support higher operating expenses. The approved average increase in rental rates for Northwood Community Apartments is one percent to meet projected operating expenses. The increase in operating expenses for both residence halls and apartments was partially offset by more than $1.7 million in cost containment efforts for fiscal year 2011.

The additional two percent increase in residence hall room and board rates will continue the capital improvements of the Residential Life Initiatives, the planned capital program launched in 2003 to improve U-M’s residential facilities.

Aging facilities have been revitalized and made safer and more comfortable for our students. Improved spaces for study and community experiences within Mosher-Jordan and Stockwell halls have facilitated our efforts to strengthen the connection between living and learning. The Hill Dining Center has added a new dimension to our campus food services. And to all of these improvements and more, the student response has been enthusiastic.

Yet, even as we move rapidly toward the opening of the new North Quad and the renovations to Couzens Hall, there are other student residences in need of improvements. Our campus residences are of wide ranging sizes, designs and ages: from Helen Newberry Residence, built in 1915 and home to 110 women, to Bursley Hall built in 1967 for 1240 men and women. Infrastructure renewal — plumbing, wiring, heating, floors to roofs – is an ongoing capital need throughout most of our halls and apartments.

Stewardship is the underlying principle that guides University Housing and the Division of Student Affairs in our recommendation of room and board and apartment rental rates. Specifically, it’s a fine balance in stewardship of facilities, programs and student dollars. By carefully managing our operations and budgets, we have been able to offer cost-efficient rates that effectively sustain our facilities and services and provide communities that have purpose and value for our students.

E. Royster Harper is the Vice President for Student Affairs.

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