OU moved 30 freshmen into empty rooms in the new Residential Colleges as unoccupied apartments and rental houses around campus continue to linger on the market.
The Residential Colleges, advertised as upperclassman student living complexes, now house 30 first-year international students and traditional freshmen. These freshmen and first-year students are part of OU’s “global community,” which gives incoming freshmen from the United States the opportunity to live with first-year international students, said Dave Annis, associate vice president and director of Housing and Food Services.
The inclusion of freshmen in the Residential Colleges comes at a time when the university is competing with other upperclassman rental options in a market where there is a surplus of student housing. OU also announced a public-private partnership in July for more on-campus housing that is currently under construction.
Norman-based realtor Brian Eddins said he believes this surplus stems from an overdevelopment of rental apartments in the area, which has decreased demand for traditional rental houses.
“You’ve got a bunch of new rental apartments. Several years ago there was more demand for residential homes in and around the campus area,” Eddins said. “People wanted to walk to school or ride their bikes to school ... the properties in and around campus that are primarily rentals — they certainly aren’t luxury homes by any means.”
Callaway House, a new option uncommonly close to campus for a luxury apartment complex, began aggressively advertising alongside the Residential Colleges during the last year.
In April, the Residential Colleges were at 50 percent occupancy. OU offered special incentives, such as cheaper meal plans and other gifts, throughout the spring to attract more students. Now, the colleges are at 92 percent occupancy, with 571 of the 618 beds filled, Annis said.
Older apartment complexes in Norman have also felt the strain of this housing surplus. Cindy Martinez, leasing manager for the Crimson Park apartment complex, said the complex is at 71 percent occupancy — less full than last year.
“The opening of upperclassman student living options on campus have definitely played a part in the competition,” Martinez said. “Having those options for students on campus definitely does weigh on our leasing here.”
Properties near OU’s campus have now become less profitable, leading investors who were hoping to rent to OU students to instead sell their properties, Eddins said.
Amanda Barth, leasing manager at Millennium Apartments, said Millennium has a current occupancy of 55 percent. Millennium opened in 2015.
“I do think the opening of the Residential Colleges and Callaway House played a part in (the competition),” Barth said. “I just think there’s a lot of cheap housing options coming up. More housing, less students definitely makes it more challenging.”
Despite being the largest incoming freshman class in the history of the university, the class of 2021’s global community would have fit into the previous location in the freshman residence halls, Annis said. However, moving the community to the Residential Colleges would provide a better experience to those involved, he said.
“We had the ability this year to take a look at the united world group that typically goes on floor three of Couch Tower and create that community over there as part of the Residential Colleges," Annis said. "We thought it would probably broaden everyone’s experience.”
Keith Gaddie, senior fellow at Headington College, said most international students are older than the average OU freshman and therefore mature enough to ease into the upperclassman living arrangement.
“They’ve had a multi-year boarding school experience, often in a country other than their own. They also have an additional year, sort of a 13th year like you get in Canada, of preparatory education before they came here,” Gaddie said.
Annis said the freshmen living in the Residential Colleges will pay the same rate as freshmen living in the residence halls. The prices for both living arrangements vary based on the type of room and bathroom.
Some upperclassmen living in the Residential Colleges were unaware freshmen lived in the housing development, while others knew of many first-year students in their midst.
“Surprisingly, I have met a couple freshmen here," said Cole Chronowski, a computer science sophomore living in Headington College. “If I had to guess, I’d probably say about 10 percent of the people I know here are freshmen.”
Andrew Wisdom, a math sophomore living in the colleges, had five first-year exchange students on his floor meeting in the residential college, he said. Wisdom said he enjoys living in the Residential Colleges.
"I really enjoy the newness of the colleges," Wisdom said. "It gives you a chance to really create a new community, and there’s no real pre-existing history, so that’s something you get to make up for yourself."
Annis said he is unsure whether the Residential Colleges would continue to house freshmen in the future and added that the future of the global community in the Residential Colleges depends on recruitment of students for next year.
“I’m thinking next year we’ll probably have enough — more than enough — upperclass students who want to live there that it would push the freshmen out,” Annis said.
Eddins said he predicts more students will return to renting properties near campus as these new housing options wear down over the years.
“I can’t blame OU for getting into the real-estate business,” Eddins said. “I know there are a lot of investors in town who aren’t happy about it.”