For some, single room occupancy is a mixed blessing

Two beds, one student.
This is the reality students are living under Northern Vermont University’s decision to grant every student their own dorm room.
But how has the school, suffering financial strife, poor state-funding, dwindling attendance numbers and a massive merger for the second time in the past decade able to grant this decision as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
It was a decision nearly a year in the making according to Director of Residence Life Jeffrey Bickford – a decision that still had a lingering sense of uncertainty as the pandemic continued to rage well into March of 2021.
“It’s about keeping density down,” said Bickford. “But not only about [density] but an equally important part of that decision, was many students are still doing work remotely… it’s just a lot easier when you’re the only person living in the room.”
NVU-Johnson, housing around 220 rooms per resident hall is at capacity this year adjusted for the revised one-person-per-room model, but to add onto years of financial struggle, the school has seen a hit in revenue.
Room and board contribute an average of 20% to the schools’ coffers, contributing to costs generally not covered by the direct cost of tuition. “It costs a lot of money to have a commercial kitchen running on a campus,” said Bickford. “This has obviously resulted in less revenue now, but this has not resulted in a pricing change.”
Although this year has seen a 3% increase in cost for housing, a figure decided upon by the Vermont State Colleges System board of trustees, this is well within the ‘normal annual change’ according to Bickford.
With single-room occupancy, students see both advantages and disadvantages. “Rooming alone subjects you to an even more independent start to college, and that is something I can appreciate,” noted Sophie Poirier, a freshman at Johnson.
This sentiment is carried amongst other students as well, although the lack of social interaction that is a consequence of the decision does not go unnoticed. “I like having a double sized dorm because it gives me the option of having time and room to myself…,” said Liviah Carignan who is attending NVU-Johnson out of Maine, “…but I would enjoy being able to have a roommate as a little ‘built in buddy.’”
Other voices amongst current campus residents agree with this sentiment. “Personally, I think it’s nice because I can be productive in my own space,” said Austin White, another resident attending his first year at NVU-Johnson. “But it can be both a good and bad thing at times, because it’s really easy to get distracted when working in your own space…part of me feels like having to go to the library would help me be more productive.”
It’s a reoccurring theme. At face value, offering every student their own room has the obvious direct benefits that are celebrated amongst many within the student body, but the recognition that it comes with indirect consequences is also apparent.
“With no roommates comes zero conflicts,” said Bickford, reflecting on past complaints he’s received from students. “There have been times where we’ve paired two students from the same high school who haven’t been getting along for ten years, and this certainly removes that as a factor.”
NVU-Johnson student Alexis Isham agrees. “I prefer having my own [room] to myself so I don’t have to deal with anyone else late at night, and also so I don’t have to be forced to interact with people without a good reason to.”
Other facilities have opened up as a result of the move as well, availability of parking spots being one notable benefit of living within a COVID world.
However, the decision to move into individual occupation of rooms within the campus, while having a relatively minor impact on the financials of the school, brings much more change within the social community Johnson strives to create.
“Yeah, the housing brings in revenue… but the sole point really is to foster connection…it’s about learning, developing some of those adult things like developing good social skills…as well as creating a sort of built-in support system because it can be as simple as having a student reach out to an RA about their roommate having a hard time,” said Bickford. “And that has been lost with this decision. There’s also the academic aspect. Studies have shown that having students on campus improves productivity and grades, so that’s also a part of it.”
While Isham appreciates the convenience and privacy of single-room occupancy, he concedes there is a downside for some. “I think the intermingled classes with virtual and singular-person rooms have been taking a toll on some students…but then again it is forcing students to learn time management.”
But regardless of the positives, students at NVU-J are still missing out on that classic ‘college experience’ summed up by Bickford, “I would love to return to every double room filled, and to go back to students complaining about not having enough parking spots…it’s an energy that’s been missing.”