Eighteen-year-old freshman Patty Bretcher arrived at the University of Maryland a few days ago, eager to make the College Park campus and its gracious Georgian buildings her new home. But instead of an ivy-covered dormitory, home is a room at the Comfort Inn.
The motel, nestled amid the neon of U.S. Rte. 1, has become one of two makeshift dormitories for as many as 140 Maryland students overflowing the campus housing this fall. When school starts on Tuesday, these would-be dormitory residents will be walking or taking buses from their motel rooms to the red-brick campus.
"It's better than nothing," said Bretcher, a Daytona Beach, Fla., resident who said she chose the University of Maryland because she loved its spacious, traditional campus. It wasn't until she arrived at the housing office that she realized how untraditional her room would be.
For the first time, the university's officials have turned to motels to house students who were promised dorm space but did not fit when the final count was in. This is not the first time that the dormitories have overflowed because officials expected more students to cancel during the summer. But in previous years, the overflow was housed in converted student lounges.
"I wish we had the beds," said Richard Stimpson, director of resident life at the College Park campus. "We don't . . . . We have to cope with that."
Maryland is not the only schoool in this area to find itself in a squeeze for dormitory space.
George Mason University in Fairfax, which put up students in motels last year, is crowding three students into dorm rooms meant for two. School officials say the situation will ease in about two weeks when a dormitory under construction is completed.
American University, which is enrolling its largest freshman class in more than a decade, is asking students to triple up. There also are students sleeping in the lounges.
"We are very, very crowded," said university president Richard Berendzen. But he said he expects that all students who were guaranteed university housing will be in rooms within a few weeks.
"Residence halls across the country are full," said Maryland's Stimpson, explaing that a strong economy is allowing students to live on campus who would have lived at home and commuted to school.
Maryland will house 7,900 students in its dorms, but that leaves without rooms 200 students who were expecting housing. And another 900 students are on waiting lists.
Most of the 200 students will be housed temporarily in either the Comfort Inn or the Quality Inn, both less than a mile from campus. Other students, whose families live within commuting distance, will be asked to live at home.
"We don't set out at the beginning of a given year to oversubscribe the place so we'll be sure we don't lose any money," Stimpson said. "Our object is to come in right on the money."
Stimpson said the hotel arrangement is temporary, probably only for a month, and students will be moved into dorms as other students cancel or do not show up for school.
Meanwhile, the university will pay about $32,000 to the motels and for student transportation to and from campus, he said.