JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University students are getting ready to kick off the fall semester Monday, Aug. 22.
However, the university is experiencing growing pains as students flock to campus. For the first time in five years, on-campus dorms are full.
“Our residence halls are at complete capacity. We are putting students in hotels,” said Dr. Brian Noland, ETSU President.
The university says this is only a temporary solution.
“About 70 to 75 students will be staying in local hotels waiting for spaces to open up on campus for the next few weeks. After two to three weeks, we should be able to work them all in,” said Dr. Joe Sherlin, vice president of student life and enrollment.
Sherlin anticipates the typical influx of some students dropping for the fall semester or making other living arrangements. He predicts all students currently in hotels should find their homes on campus soon.
About 3,000 students, primarily freshman and sophomores, are living on campus this fall of the around 14,000 enrolled for the semester.
ETSU says running out of space in the dorms is not the worst problem to have. It is indicative of a trend they are pleased with: the university is growing.
“Our freshman class will be north of 2,000, which is up almost 400 over where we were during COVID,” said Noland.
Leaders say students come from all 50 states and more than 50 countries. With this large freshman class, university leaders attribute it to investments that have been made to improve the quality of education.
“That speaks to the quality of our academic programs, the student experience, the affordability,” Sherlin said. “ETSU is a destination institution. Increasingly, our first-year students are seeing that.”
News Channel 11 spoke with freshmen who were able to get a spot in campus residence halls.
“I’m right here around everything. It makes it so much better,” said Addison Burns.
Her roommate, McKinzie Journey, agrees and said they took quick action ahead of the semester.
“We applied early so we could make sure we got that dorm room that we wanted,” said Journey.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this semester marks the first time dorms have been allowed to be at full capacity. In 2020, only 50% of capacity was allowed in residence halls to protect the safety of students in the onset of the public health emergency.
In 2021, the number went up to 90%.
For fall 2022, 100% capacity in dorms is once again allowed – and 100% is what they got.
ETSU is in the early stages of planning to build a new residence hall on campus. The earliest it could open would be the fall of 2026.
“We may, in the interim, need to look at lease agreements with off-campus providers to make sure we can provide capacity for certain students who want that experience,” said Sherlin.
This would prevent the university from having to look to hotels for temporary housing for students. Instead, the lease agreements could be made with nearby apartments.
Students who are staying off campus in hotels currently are still paying their campus housing fees. The university housing department is making up the difference of the cost for them to stay in the hotels.
As ETSU grows, university leaders are setting a lofty goal of 18,000 students enrolled within the next several years. Sherlin says the school is looking to increase on-campus housing capacity by several hundred in the next few years.
Freshmen are not required by ETSU to live on campus.