In recent years, universities across the country have been experiencing housing crises due to their over-enrollment. Universities have put forth solutions by offering financial incentives to delay enrollment and converting buildings on campus into temporary residence halls as they draw up plans for new halls. In other areas, administrators have not been able to find a solution, leaving students to put their life plans on hold because they cannot afford a place to live.
The University of Tennessee is currently facing a similar problem. After admitting around 6,800 incoming students in the fall of 2022 — the largest class recorded in UT’s history — students have been faced with difficulty when trying to find housing for the 2023-2024 school year. Even though UT is renting out a Holiday Inn and apartments at Quarry Trail, students are still struggling to find housing.
Jaxx Fox, a first year graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Information Sciences explained their feelings about the situation.
“The university is absolutely not handling incoming freshmen appropriately and just shrugging when they voice their struggle with housing and cost of living. For some of y’all, you can pay your way out of it but a lot of students can’t and end up in awful financial situations themselves or with their families,” Fox said.
Fox has had a unique experience with UT housing. They moved to Knoxville in 2008 to attend UT and graduated in 2012. Since then, they have stayed in Knoxville and now own a house in the area. Fox noted how times have changed since their undergraduate time at UT.
“I remember when upperclassmen could be in dorms. My husband, who graduated from UT the same year as me, moved off campus as a junior and then moved back as a senior to focus on his studies,” Fox said.
Though upperclassmen are still able to live in dorms, students are facing more and more difficulty finding a room with the policies that UT has begun using. Last year, UT implemented the “lottery system” where students submit their requests for housing and those who receive housing are picked at random.
Many students believe this system to be unfair, especially upperclassmen who are looking to continue living in Laurel or Vol Hall. In the past, UT has used a “same room, new year” method for providing housing to their students, but due to high demand, that is no longer guaranteed.
Just ten years ago, Fox’s husband was able to live off campus and return to campus because it allowed him to better focus on his studies. This is not an option for some students, however, as they must live on campus in order to maintain their enrollment. Many students utilize their financial aid and scholarships to pay for on-campus housing. One of these students is junior Madeline Sims, majoring in Social Work.
“My financial aid pays for my housing, without it, I cannot afford to attend UT,” Sims said. “Part of the stipulation for my financial aid is that I live on campus. If I don’t receive the aid, then I can’t live in Knoxville. I can’t pay for it.”
With the “lottery system” UT has put in place to determine the availability of housing for upperclassmen, many students have been left to find housing off campus. Some students are even camping outside of popular apartment complexes near campus in order to find housing.
“I waited to get a lease at the Tenn for, like, twenty hours, and luckily I got it. Before I got my lease, it was stressful and I did not know what to do. Housing in Knoxville is expensive and scarce so I am lucky that I know where I am living,” Riley Brennan, a sophomore majoring in marketing, said.
Not every student can say the same as Brennan. Michela Campe, a sophomore studying business analytics and management, signed a lease at an apartment complex near campus for the upcoming school year, but received an email after signing saying that her signed lease did not guarantee housing.
“[The email] said, ‘having a signed lease does NOT guarantee your placement at this time due to the volume of applicants.’ Like, why are you even giving out leases then? They did this to tons of kids,” Campe said. “I waited too long to resign at my current complex and the price went up almost $300 from what I pay now. It’s absurd.”
There are still students on the waitlist for on-campus housing and it is evident that not all of them will receive housing. Students who already live off-campus are suffering from increasing rates and limited space at their current complex, so they are continuing to search elsewhere.
There are off-campus housing options available, but some of these options have now become fully leased, so they are no longer available to students. There are currently availabilities at Flagship Kerns, Knox High Apartments, The Orchard of Knoxville, Barclay House, Maplehurst Park, and some URE Housing properties.
If a student is looking for housing, these properties are worth researching and touring. Other than that, there’s not much to be done except sit and wait.
Sitting and waiting is not an option for some students, like Sims.
“I don’t have a backup plan. I have a meeting next week with my advisor about switching into the College of Social Work’s online bachelors program,” Sims said.
Not all students have the time to wait 20 hours for a lease, like Brennan. If housing isn’t even guaranteed for those who signed leases off-campus, like Campe stated, then it leaves students feeling confused and helpless.
“UT has been so focused on their incoming classes that they’ve forgotten about their upperclassmen. We’re just as important as the incoming freshmen for enrollment, so it feels unfair that we’ve been stiffed this way,” Sims said.
As part of a solution for this housing crisis, UT is planning to build two new residence halls as part of their master plan for housing, though the timeline for construction is currently unclear. As the plan currently stands, one of the halls will house about 525 beds and the other, about 750. The finished product cannot come soon enough in the minds of upperclassmen who are frantically searching for a place to live.