Residence Life Houses the Herd

BENJAMIN NORMAN | THE SPECTRUM Thompson Hall is among four high-rise dorms on North Dakota State’s campus.
Thompson Hall is among four high-rise dorms on North Dakota State’s campus.

There have never been so many students at North Dakota State.

Nearing its 125th anniversary, NDSU recorded its largest overall enrollment class and third-highest first-year enrollment last fall.

And early projections show that first-year student numbers might continue to rise.

“If you were to ask me right now, I’d say it shows like we have a little bit of an increase,” Rian Nostrum, the director of residence life, said of next fall’s numbers.

He said while his job can be a “guessing game” at times, it is just the nature of housing thousands of students.

“It’s that moving target,” Nostrum said. “As a public, land-grant institution, you have to be accessible to the masses.”

It proves to be a difficult task, but, Nostrum, who has worked 18 years in NDSU Residence Life said, a strong staff and strategy goes a long way with plentiful rewards.

Finding your bed

While most incoming first-year students live on campus, a balance needs to be struck between the younger demographic and upperclassmen.

High school students fill out applications throughout their senior year.

For NDSU students this year, the application process for residence halls begins March 2.

A waiting list forms for students who have a lower priority status than others, but Nostrum said that those lower on the list should not worry too much.

“It’s all about your tolerance level for risk and patience,” he said.

Risk comes into play, Nostrum said, because Residence Life does not “guarantee upperclassmen housing. You have to know that.”

But for those who wait out the waiting list comes rewards.

“I’ve never contacted an upperclass student (from the waiting list) and said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have housing,’” he said. “We’ve always emptied the waitlist.”

NDSU often has enough space to accommodate transfer and late-starting students.

“I feel very confident that if you wait it out, you’re going to get housing on campus in the residence halls,” Nostrum said.

Shooting for bullseyes

Many variables are factored into the housing on campus.

Knowing a year’s first-year student population size is essential.

Nostrum said the range, though it fluctuates annually, is positioned to steadily grow.

He said the 2,400 to 2,550 first-year student range could, in the near future, rise to 2,550 to 2,700.

Last fall, NDSU saw 2,469 students enroll, which was the third-highest ever.

But the number is a guessing game, not helped by the seemingly fickle and random nature of high school students.

Senior classes across the tri-state region, Nostrum said, either are collectively ambitious or sluggish.

Some years, he said, “Early on, the report will look like we’ll have a huge increase – because everybody is applying early.”

Not all of those students will go to NDSU though, so a drop in numbers materializes.

“I’ve had other years where it looks like we’re going to be way down,” Nostrum said, but he chalks it up to “that senior class being procrastinators.”

On-campus factors add an additional layer of complexity to the housing formula, including residence assistant registration and how many overall upperclassmen wish to live in the halls and apartments.

Apartment sign-up, though different from residence hall applications, significantly influences how many people can live in the halls.

When upperclassmen shop for on-campus living, Nostrum said, they often pick both apartment and residence halls. Those accepted in apartments take themselves off the residence hall waiting list, making it shrink.

A constant among the variables, Nostrum said, includes this year’s cancellation rates for housing, which are at pace with last year’s numbers.

Later in the spring, the numbers begin to shape and solidify further, he continued.

The final frontier

With higher enrollment numbers, Residence Life has had to reorganize some of its living arraignments, including Pavek Hall.

“Last year, just because we knew we were kind of hitting our capacity for first-year students,” Nostrum said, Residence Life left the option for first-year students to live among upperclassmen in Pavek.

While the first-year students did not need the extra hall last year, the same possibility is being floated again for this year, Nostrum said, which offers options to Residence Life.

“It hedges the bets to say, ‘We have some flexibility; let’s wait and see what happens,’” he said.

Pavek Hall has become a “last frontier” for Residence Life regarding first-year students, Nostrum continued.

The high-rise would be the best accommodating building first-year students, he said, compared to the Mathew Living Learning Centers, for example.

Nostrum said he worries about completely making Pavek Hall strictly for first-year students, however, because of the many sophomores that would get “squeezed-played” out of the high-rise building.

Sophomores, he continued, that are on the lower end of the waiting list totem pole, since priority is given partially by senior standing.

A people’s profession

Predictions and strategy aside, Residence Life works with people.

Some of Nostrum’s favorite aspects of his job include this social facet.

After the Bison won their second national championship in Frisco, Nostrum said he stormed the field and happened to bump into an RA from his first years as director of Reed.

He hadn’t seen him for about a decade, he said.

Megan Paradis, the Thompson Hall director, said she enjoys the people part of her job, too.

The NDSU alumnae said she getting to know the students who live in her hall is “the best part.”

“You want to do everything you can to support your students,” Paradis said.

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