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Many area colleges have had to find extra housing for their students this fall because an unusually high percentage of students admitted last spring actually decided to enroll. To accommodate the unexpectedly large freshman classes, colleges over the summer converted existing structures into dormitories, acquired apartment buildings and arranged for hotels to put up the extra students when they arrived in the fall.

Compounding this year's over-enrollment problem at some schools is the continuation of a trend toward on-campus living. The effect of this trend on Ivy League schools, where most undergraduates already live on campus, is limited, but at a school like Northeastern, where most undergraduates and graduate students commute, the number of students wanting to live on campus has risen steadily during the past few years, and school officials have to allow for that, as well.

Whatever the reason, area colleges pressed for housing space this fall include Brandeis, Boston College, Northeastern, Tufts, Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

School officials have fairly glib explanations about the reasons for the increasing popularity of on-campus housing. Off-campus costs are rising rapidly, they point out, and coed housing has attracted many students. But for this fall's unique and widespread over-enrollment problem, explanations are far less handy.

One of the most plausible-sounding explanations comes from L. Fred Jewett '57, Harvard's dean of admissions. Jewett says his "best theory" explaining the over-enrollment is that this year was the first year that Ivy League schools instituted an early action program. Under the program some students found out that they had been accepted to Ivy League schools early enough so that they did not apply to any other schools just to get "an admission ticket." These colleges' applicant pools therefore did not include a number of students who would, if accepted, have rejected the college's admission offer in favor of any Ivy League school.

Jewett's is not the only theory, however. Brain Marcus, director of student affairs at Brandeis, said last week, "Kids knew much earlier than in the past what the Ivies were going to do, but I'm not sure that's the main factor, because when I take a look at some of the over-enrolled schools, they just don't compete with Harvard." Marcus said that at Brandeis the enrollment level is not unexpectedly high, but there are more students seeking on-campus housing than in the past.

Marcus speculated that many schools may have admitted too many applicants. He said that some overenrolled schools may have been "playing it very safe to make sure they fill their classes and they have been playing it too safe."

John Maguire, dean of admissions, records and financial aid at Boston College, said last week, "I'm sure that there are schools that have tried to offset economic pressure by over-enrollment." Although B.C. this fall had to temporarily house 94 freshmen in a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge. Maguire said the college was not over-enrolled. He said the students were placed in the hotel because of an unexpectedly low attrition rate among upperclassmen left a shortage of empty rooms on-campus to house all the freshmen.

Less than a week before they were to arrive at B.C., the 94 freshmen received notice that they would live in a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge more than two miles from the main campus for the first several weeks of school. All but 14 of the freshman hotel dwellers have now moved onto the main campus, where space is being found, and the rest should have moved by this Friday, Richard E. Collins, housing director at Boston College, said last week.

Students staying at the hotel have complained about having to live out of suitcases, unsure of exactly when they would move on campus, and the irregular shuttle bus service to the main campus has annoyed almost all. But most chose to simply grin and bear it. After all, students on campus were not getting color televisions, air conditioning, and maid service.

Frances Fletcher, manager of the hotel, seems to be enjoying the arrangements. "I feel like a dorm mother," Fletcher said last week.

Northeastern University has an overenrollment problem this fall, and to accommodate 150 transfer students the school has leased the top two floors of the Boston YMCA, adjacent to the school's campus. The floors have effectively been turned into Northeastern dormitories. A new metal grate across the building's stairways shuts off the sixth and seventh floors from the rest of the building, so that the only access is an elevator which a security guard watches. And while the rest of the YMCA has 11 p.m. parietals, the top floors stay open for traffic all night.

Some students are annoyed by lack of furniture or by trouble receiving mail, but the main measure of students' contentedness, or lack thereof, is the size of each student's room. Almost all are in singles, some of which are two-room suites. The only students who seem really unhappy with the accommodations are students like Karen Kaufman, whose room barely has space for a bed, a desk, and a closet.

And there is a certain social stigma associated with the building. Dom Pantano, a transfer student placed in the overflow housing, said last week that when he tells people where he lives they say, "Oh, you live at the Y? That's the pits." Pantano added that the atmosphere where he lives is not quite what he had expected at Northeastern. He said when he asked the desk clerk if there was a cigarette machine, the clerk said in shock, "Son, this is the YMCA!"

Diane Jacobson has a two-room single and said last week she is quite happy. As she saw it, the only problem with the accommodations was that "there are six showers to 80 girls on the floor."

Undergraduates staying at the YMCA have one definite advantage. Alicia Waiter, a resident assistant there, said last week that the students there are charged $50 less than the college's usual room fee.

Boston University is one of the area schools hardest hit by overenrollment. This year it has about 600 more students than it had expected early last spring. To house the overflow, the school has acquired three nearby apartment buildings.

Although overenrollment at Tufts is not as bad, overflow students are worse off. About 160 Tufts undergraduates are spending this year in a stripped-down section of the Sheraton Commander Hotel north of the Cambridge Common--more than a mile from their campus. Tufts has leased out the hotel rooms for the whole academic year, and the hotel management has removed its furniture for the duration.

As with the Northeastern students staying at the YMCA, the larger the students' rooms at the Sheraton Commander, the fewer complaints they seem to have.

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