Way-Out-of-the-Norm Dorm

Alyssa Evans, 17, of Owings Mills, Md., and her father take in her four-person suite at the newly opened Towers at University Town Center in Hyattsville.
Alyssa Evans, 17, of Owings Mills, Md., and her father take in her four-person suite at the newly opened Towers at University Town Center in Hyattsville. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

As she starts her freshman year at the University of Maryland, Alyssa Evans will not be roughing it: She'll have a furnished single room with a double bed, private bathroom, cable and high-speed Internet. Her four-person suite has a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, a dining room table and black leather couches in the living room.

Her high-rise building has a game room with video games, poker and pool tables and flat-screen TVs, a rooftop deck, a pool and -- losing track here -- okay, and a big fitness center.

And tanning beds.

Going off to school was never like this. Especially because she's not even at school. The privately developed 910-bed student housing that opened last week is in Hyattsville, not College Park, in the middle of a construction mess that will eventually be a 56-acre development with shops, restaurants, a movie theater and offices.

And it's filled with students from nine schools.

So while Evans, 17, nervously waited to meet her U-Md. roommates, a bunch of Howard University sorority sisters were reuniting downstairs with hugs. A Howard graduate student arrived from Tennessee, hoping the building would be quiet. Catholic University students moved onto a floor that was set aside for them.

And hundreds of others from American, Georgetown, George Washington and Trinity universities and Montgomery and Prince George's community colleges were dragging in duffel bags, DVD players and pillows, their college T-shirts and visors a jumble of colors.

It might just be a sign of things to come, with booming enrollments and student expectations driving changes in housing. Some experts said they believe the Towers at University Town Center is one of the first such projects in the country to serve so many schools at once.

Research has shown that college students tend to be more involved and more likely to stay in school if they live on campus.

But many schools have bulging enrollments this year, thanks to population growth and the increasing importance of a college degree, and are now struggling to provide housing. That means Catholic, for example, can't squeeze in all the students who are coming this month, so it leased 58 beds at the Towers and arranged a shuttle bus loop to its Northeast Washington campus.

Student housing is a big issue here: The D.C. area has one of the highest numbers of college students per capita in the country, according to the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. The group's 15 schools alone enroll more than 175,000.

Many schools have sparred bitterly with neighbors over student housing as lawns and driveways fill with cars, keg parties spill into quiet neighborhoods and music shakes once-quiet apartment towers. Some have come up with creative alternatives, such as the hotels that George Washington University converted into dorms, the partnership U-Md. formed with private developers to build apartment towers, the art studios American is converting to suites and the trailers Catholic put in the middle of campus.

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