OU weighs new dorm as enrollment swells

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Rochester – Fresh off its 17th straight year of record enrollment, Oakland University is considering spending more than $100 million to add student housing and more space in its campus center to accommodate those extra students.

Students, from left, Micalyn Foreman, 21, of Detroit; Arinze Okafor, 20, of Lansing; and Elizabeth Wells, 21, of Southfield spend time at the Oakland Center at Oakland University. Officials are considering expanding the space.

Tucked inside one of Metro Detroit’s wealthiest suburbs, OU announced this month that enrollment is up more than 5 percent, from 20,511 last year to 21,700 this fall.

Traditionally a commuter school, Oakland’s population of students living on campus is growing, too, up to a record 2,699 this fall. That’s up 30 percent since 2008, and OU projects demand for dorm beds will keep rising.

As it is, the school received nearly 3,600 housing requests this fall.

OU President George Hynd and other university officials discussed potential dorm and campus center projects at a Sept. 28 meeting of the board of trustees’ facilities committee.

“We want to accommodate the increasing number of students and to ensure the quality of life for students is great,” said Dawn Aubry, director of admission for the university.

The plan presented during the meeting calls for building a six-floor residence hall on the south side of OU’s campus with 750 beds, a 600-seat dining hall and classroom space for 200 students. Estimated cost: $77.3 million.

The new dorm, proposed to open in August 2018, would be “similar in amenities” to Oak View Hall, a $30 million, 500-bed facility that opened in fall 2014.

Also discussed was a proposal to add 60,000 square feet to the Oakland Center, the student union, as part of a $40 million renovation. That would bring the center to 200,000 square feet, in line with typical student unions at schools the size of OU. The proposal calls for construction to start as soon as August.

“While the president hopes to add new residential housing and expand the Oakland Center by fall of 2018, a plan has not been approved as of yet,” said OU spokesman Brian Bierley.

Hynd took office in July 2014.

“If we can drive up the number of students living on campus, the evidence shows you’ll have a higher retention rate and a higher probability the students will graduate in four years,” Hynd said then.

Students like senior Zalika Aniapam of Troy say the school could use bigger facilities.

“Now that I’m a senior, it seems a little crowded,” she said. “I’m glad the school is finding more space because it’s hard finding a computer some places; the Oakland Center is always overflowing with people and it’s hard to maneuver around campus.”

Founded in 1957 as a satellite campus of Michigan State University, OU is ranked as a tier 2 university by U.S. News and World Report. The Golden Grizzlies athletic teams have won 10 NCAA championships in swimming, diving and soccer.

Nick Walter, OU’s student body president, said the school’s reputation is drawing more students.

“The campus in itself is stunning. It’s not as well-known as Michigan State or the University of Michigan, but more people are starting to know about the OU name,” said Walter, a senior from Farmington Hills. “The name is starting to carry more respect. It’s a hidden gem.”

This year, OU was ranked fourth out of 25 schools in Michigan that are considered to be the best investment for a college or university, according to the Best Value Schools website.

Oak View Hall opened at the Rochester school last year. Officials are considering building another dorm that would open in August 2018.

While tuition has increased 8.5 percent, exceeding the state Legislature’s 3.2 percent limit, the university is still cheaper than some other higher education institutions in Michigan.

In-state tuition at OU is $12,431 per year, and a full-time student who stays in a double dorm room pays a total of $21,681. At Michigan State, tuition is $13,580 and the total cost for a dorm resident is $23,054. At the University of Michigan, tuition is $13,486 and students living on campus pay a total of $24,040.

School officials say OU boasts its strongest incoming freshman class this fall, with a 3.4 GPA average and an average ACT score of 23.3. The Honors College accepted 315 students with many averaging a 3.9 GPA and a 31 ACT score.

“We are recruiting the top talent in the state and the surrounding areas. Compared to the competition, this is still the best educational value in Michigan. Plus, there are no application or orientation fees,” Aubry said.

Aniapam, who started at Oakland U as a freshman, doesn’t regret her college choice.

“Despite all of the rapid changes, tuition spikes and the new structures popping up all over campus, I wouldn’t have picked any other school,” she said.