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Waitlist worry at University of Guelph: What the school has to say about rising enrollment

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The University of Guelph says they planned for growth in 2024 – and they achieved it.

More than 7,000 new students will become Gryphons this September.

The problem is the university only has 5,050 residence spaces currently available.

On Monday, an email went out to 1,365 first-years stating they had been put on a residence waitlist. It also explained that each student had randomly been assigned a number to hold their place in line.

According to the University of Guelph, anyone with a number below 150 or 200 has a reasonable chance at getting into residence this fall.

Behind the enrollment boom

The University of Guelph said they’re facing significant financial pressures that’s forced them to expand enrollment.

“The University of Guelph has had sequential years of operating budget deficits [and] we are anticipating an operating budget deficit for the upcoming year,” explained Gwen Chapman, the university’s provost and academic vice-president. “In order to address that structural deficit, we are really having to look at our enrollment management.”

The school said a provincial policy freezing tuition rates for the last five years has put a significant financial strain on most post-secondary institutions.

“In order to increase our revenue, as our expenses increase, compensation increases and so on, then we really need to look at maximizing the number of students that we take in so that we can have revenue that is as close as possible to meeting our to meeting our costs,” Chapman added.

Flawed projections

Chapman said the university still planned on accommodating all students in residence, but it’s impossible to know exactly how many students will ultimately pick Guelph.

“The challenge is that many students are applying at multiple universities, five or even more, so we know that probably most of the students that we make offers to may not accept our offer, and they will decide to go somewhere else.”

Chapman said the school makes predictions based on acceptance rates from previous years, but this year, the numbers led them astray.

“As early as April we were realizing that the response and the requests for residents were getting high and we weren't sure that we would be able to accommodate everybody,” Chapman explained. “It was about two or three percentage points higher than last year, which actually results in a significantly higher number of students.”

She added that in the week leading up to the June 3 deadline, the situation was concerning. Then, it become a very real problem.

“Many students, much more than last year, accepted our offer over the last weekend. So a week before the deadline, we knew we were doing well, but it wasn't until the actual deadline that we that we got all of those numbers,” said Chapman.

No residence guarantee

While it’s common for schools in Ontario to promise first-years a spot in residence, the University of Guelph said didn’t make this guarantee for the 2024 fall term.

Most students and parents who spoke to CTV News said, while residence spots weren’t guaranteed, the University of Guelph made it seem like residence availability wouldn’t be an issue during campus tours, the open house and in other correspondence with school officials.

“We were indicating to people that we couldn't guarantee residences, but we were expecting that most students would be accommodated and, in fact, we are at this point able to accommodate 85 per cent of the people who did put applications in for residence,” Chapman said.

Communication breakdown

Many of people who reached out to CTV News said they weren’t informed of the residence issue until early June, or in some cases, after the June 3 deadline to accept an offer at another university.

According to Chapman, incoming first-year students were told of the waitlist possibility only after they accepted and paid their residence deposit.

No general statement was made to the public about the waitlist or the residence availability issues.

What now?

The university said they understand why many people are disappointed and angry about the situation.

“We recognize that people are frustrated and upset. We are doing our best to get as many students into residence as we can, and then provide other supports where we can for those students who don't get into residence,” Chapman said. “We have specific programs for incoming first-year students who live off campus so that they can get those connections, get the supports and the social connections that students would get through residence.”

The university is also encouraging those on the waitlist, especially those whose number is above 150-200, to start looking into off-campus housing options.

Impact of international students

Ontario universities often guarantee first-year residence to both international and out-of-province students.

According to the University of Guelph, international students make up about four per cent of residence beds.

Starting this year, the school is also offering international students a spot in residence throughout the duration of their studies. A similar policy is currently in place at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.

The University of Guelph said international students hardly ever take them up on the offer.

Many people in online forums have blamed international students for the residence crunch.

Chapman said that’s just not accurate.

“I would say that's definitely not the case. It's a very small proportion of the residents that are international students,” she explained. “Really, it's the unexpectedly high response rate from domestic students that has resulted in our increased numbers.”

Chapman said, so far, they have found residence space for 85 per cent of incoming first-year students, and with 20 per cent of the student body living in residence, that’s more than any other Ontario university.

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