Elite Colleges Offer Students Cash, Ski Passes to Ease Campus Housing Crunch

Colleges are preparing for a flood of students returning to on-campus dorm life this semester, after many spent the past year studying remotely. One problem? There’s not enough housing for everyone.

Undergrads looking forward to resuming in-person classes will be jostling for space with 20-somethings who took a year off, and students who otherwise might be spending time abroad. Accommodating them all has been like a puzzle -- especially for elite schools that tout their small class sizes and close-knit social scenes.

In Vermont, Middlebury College is dangling incentives like ski passes to find takers for a satellite locale 11 miles (18 kilometers) away. Dartmouth College, in neighboring New Hampshire, converted common areas into bedrooms and doubles into triples, and offered $5,000 to students who would drop their bid to live on campus. Even after that, more than 90 remained on a waitlist for housing as of last week.

“Other potential solutions, such as new modular housing or blocks of hotel space, proved to be less feasible,” said Justin Anderson, a Dartmouth spokesman. Among the reasons: a local labor shortage and the expected return of fall tourists to northern New England.

It’s a tricky spot for colleges, after enrollments declined last spring and some of the richest schools granted discounts. Dorms and dining halls, which help bring in revenue, also sat emptier than usual.

This semester, they’ll have the opposite problem. Harvard, in Massachusetts, is expecting its biggest freshman class since World War II. Pomona College in California, said in an email to students that the incoming class will be its largest ever.