- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Rising enrollment has forced the University System of Maryland to expand a program that lets private companies build and manage student housing.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, the panel that approves new state buildings, will meet in April to consider an Alabama company's plan for a 213-bed facility at the University of Maryland College Park.

The $13 million building will be adjacent to a 1,050-bed complex the company has under construction. Another company opened a 704-bed facility near the College Park campus last fall.

In addition, the state has signed off on a developer's plan to double to 1,000 the number of beds in private residence halls at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The university system which oversees the College Park school and 10 other colleges and universities in Maryland is bracing for an 11 percent rise in undergraduate enrollment over the next decade.

The number of undergraduates enrolled in the system's schools will rise from 60,002 in 2000 to 65,052 in 2010, according to system projections.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission, a body that oversees all schools in the state, projects a 9 percent increase in enrollment at University System of Maryland schools between 1999 and 2009.

"The biggest benefit of these facilities is that they're not on our balance sheet," said James E. Sansbury, associate vice chancellor of the university system.

In most cases, the college sets up a nonprofit organization and leases land it owns to the nonprofit. The nonprofit then hires a developer, who is paid a fee for building the residence hall.

The complicated financial footwork lets universities own the land but escape the cost of building a residence hall, while the developer's construction is tax-free.

"The schools get the housing they need to recruit and retain students, and they get it done quicker than if they tried to build a residence hall the traditional way," said Michael Mouron, president of Capstone Development Corp., the Birmingham, Ala., company developing the residence hall in College Park.

Capstone is one of a handful of companies that develop student housing exclusively. The private firm expects to place 6,000 beds on nine campuses this year, including a facility at Towson University near Baltimore.

Schools began turning to private builders several years ago, when Congress eliminated a federal program that funded residence halls, according to the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, a trade group in Ohio.

The association could not provide the number of private residence halls built annually in the United States. But its executive director, Gary J. Schwartzmueller, said the practice is becoming more common because it allows schools to focus on academics.

"Building and managing housing for students is not the primary responsibility of a college or university," he said.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia said using companies to provide student housing is not widespread in the state, although George Mason University in Fairfax has done it.

The University System of Maryland began turning to private companies two years ago to fill its student housing shortage. So far, developers have placed 2,180 beds on or near the campuses of four colleges.

The facilities are usually more elaborate than traditional dorms, Mr. Sansbury said. Most provide students with private rooms, although they usually have to share bathrooms with at least one other student.

The first private residence hall at College Park was fully leased and had a waiting list when it opened last fall, said Patricia L. Mielke, director of resident life for the University of Maryland College Park.

"The response from the students has been incredible," she said.

Leasing private housing for students can be more expensive than traditional residence halls, but parents appear to be willing to pay: About 1,200 students were placed on a waiting list for housing last fall, according to the school.

Parents and students throughout the region are demanding better residence halls, said Diane L. Hartley, senior vice president of Spaulding & Slye Colliers, a D.C. brokerage that specializes in helping universities meet their real estate needs.

"It isn't just enrollment that is increasing; the caliber of the student is increasing. They are more sophisticated. They want more amenities," she said.

All colleges and universities are facing housing shortages, said H. Alan Brangman, architect and executive director of facilities planning for Georgetown University in the District.

The school began construction last year on its own 780-bed residence hall. The $168.5 million facility, scheduled for completion by fall 2003, will boost the percentage of on-campus student residents from 77 percent to 90 percent, the school said.

"Finding the right mix [of on-campus and off-campus housing] is a constant challenge," Mr. Brangman said.

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