Framingham State foresees housing crunch

FSU enrollment continues to rise

By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / August 25, 2011

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Amid a surge in enrollment, Framingham State University is already considering another dorm, even as it gets ready to open a new state-of-the-art residence hall next week.

FSU officials are preparing to study whether to build another dorm after seeing the core campus population jump nearly 10 percent since 2007.

The plans for a feasibility study come as the university is about to welcome students to a new $47 million dorm that features two-bedroom, apartment-style suites popular among upperclassmen. Official move-in day is Sept. 3, and classes start Sept. 6.

The campus expansion, in turn, is being driven by a changed economic scene that has many parents exploring alternatives to pricier private colleges.

The boost that FSU received last year when it was upgraded from a college to a university has also helped raise the school’s profile, said Dale Hamel, the university’s senior vice president of administration, finance, and information technology.

University status “has certainly weighed on the decision process that families are making,’’ said Hamel. “A larger impact has been as a result of the economic downturn. Families are deciding this is a very good value.’’

The feasibility study will look at, among other things, where a new dorm can be built. There is a shortage of potential sites on campus, so adjacent or nearby sites may have to be looked at, Hamel said.

While the size has yet to be determined, there is enough demand for hundreds of additional rooms, though maybe not as large as the new 410-bed residence hall slated to open next week, he said.

FSU’s newest dorm features suites large enough for four students, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a small living room. Older residence halls feature the traditional dorm room with a pair of beds.

The new dorm’s suites cost $7,250 per student annually compared with just under $6,000 for a traditional dorm room, he said.

“One of our target audiences was to really provide a new type of housing that would be attractive to upperclassmen,’’ Hamel said. “It wasn’t surprising this was the first dorm to be sold out.’’

Yet even the addition of more than 400 new beds is not enough to meet demand, with FSU also renting out 40 rooms at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel & Conference Center on Route 9 to accommodate an expected overflow, Hamel said.

Enrollment has grown at a brisk pace over the past few years, with core daytime student population hitting 3,512 this fall, up from 3,196 in 2007, Hamel said. That number is projected to move up again, to an estimated 3,750, by 2014, he said.

Through 2007, enrollment growth was basically static, averaging .6 percent a year, according to Hamel.

“We have had a couple very large classes the last couple of years,’’ he said.

Lower costs and the realization and growing respect among parents for the quality of public higher education have helped drive the growth, Hamel said.

Tuition, room, and board at Framingham State averages $16,930 a year, compared with $50,000 or more at many private universities.

The university’s growth is being welcomed by town officials working to fill vacant storefronts and revitalize downtown.