NEIU pays The Nest $600,000 due to low occupancy


Cecilia G. Hernandez, Writer

NEIU President Gloria J. Gibson informed the NEIU community that the university paid The Nest more than $600,000 in October to make up the gap of low occupancy during her first State of the University Address on Nov. 27.

In an interview with Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Daniel Lopez Jr. and Director of Strategic Communications Mike Hines on Nov. 29, Lopez explained that the contract NEIU has with American Campus Communities (ACC) requires an 80 percent occupancy in The Nest.

“This last year our occupancy was 53 percent,” Lopez said. “Because we did not make our 80 percent requirement, we are expected to make a financial contribution to make that gap from 53 percent to 80 percent.”

Lopez said the university needed to pay the 27 percent difference by the end of October, which was “just over $600,000.”

“Given our predictions for next spring, we think it’s going to be a very similar amount and we will have to make a contribution by February,” Lopez said.

When asked if this contribution meant other programs and services would not be funded or if people would be laid off, Lopez said, “Not due to this. As a matter of fact, the president has made it very clear that, even though she’s been here only for six months, that a lot of our departments are already operating at a very limited budget so we can’t afford to decrease resources for students. As a matter of fact, we need to increase some of those resources.”

Lopez said they would have preferred to invest that money elsewhere, but it is money that the university carved out of the general operating fund.

“We are not decreasing financial aid services because we’re paying this, no. It’s a commitment that the university made when we went into this agreement and we just have to find the money.

“I think the bottom line is that there will be less money put into the reserves,” Lopez said.

As for the plans to build another residence hall, Lopez said, “No. At this point, there are no plans for us to build an additional residence hall whether it’s in the newly acquired properties on Bryn Mawr or even on campus.”

Lopez said the process to apply and live at The Nest was more selective this year than before, which could’ve attributed to the low occupancy. Students interested in living at The Nest first had to meet with a financial adviser to determine if they can afford it with scholarships and loans.

“We did it this year because we knew that some students were wanting to live in The Nest who couldn’t afford to live in it and the university did not want to put any more additional financial burden on the student,” Lopez said.

Another reason that Lopez said he believed contributed to the low occupancy at The Nest is the new policies put into place to increase students’ safety. Based on incidents involving altercations and verbal threats to one’s safety, Lopez said the university decided to restrict the number of visitors in each room and making them sign in before going into the rooms. Visitors must leave their I.D.s in the front desk and they must leave at certain times.

“The issues came from visitors, not necessarily the students,” Lopez said.

As the new policies were implemented, Lopez said students were not happy with them. During a town hall meeting Lopez held with the students living at The Nest, Lopez said he asked them to form a club and then provide recommendations to The Nest management and to him on improving the policies.

“We’re waiting for them to have those conversations,” Lopez said.

According to Lopez, the occupancy requirement for the fourth year of the five-year contract with ACC is 80 percent again, then about 78 percent for the fifth year.

“The bottom line for us is really enrollment,” Lopez said.

Hines said that the percentage of decrease in freshmen enrollment was “in the 40s.” When looking at the Enrollment Fact Sheet for fall 2018, the number of freshmen students who enrolled at NEIU for the fall 2017 was 830 students. This fall, it was 451 students.

“We know that from year one and two (of the residence hall contract) that about 25 percent of the students who enrolled at the university also lived on campus,” Lopez said. “So if there is a dip on first-year enrollment then we’re certainly going to have a less occupance in the residence hall.”

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Lamont Vaughn said, “I think enrollment is low because we’ve seen enrollment go down across the state on average of five percent. It’s the trend. I think when the economy is good, sometimes students would go into jobs instead of education so there’s no one factor that points to low enrollment.”

What are some initiatives NEIU is creating to improve enrollment and retention at NEIU and The Nest?

One of the initiatives Lopez said NEIU is working on to increase occupancy is forming an agreement with community colleges to allow their international students to live in The Nest while studying at the other institutions.

Lopez said, “We were approached by Truman not long ago because they attract a lot of international students that are coming to learn English but they have difficulties finding housing, so they’ve asked us to consider going into some kind of understanding with them. That we would house (the international students) here while they are attending Truman. We’re working on that now for Truman and Wright College.”

Lopez said he hopes this agreement would be a “seamless transition” for international students to transfer to NEIU when they are done at the community college.

“This would give them an opportunity to see what Northeastern is all about,” Lopez said. “That’s a win-win I think. We know that there are other housing projects that do that and are quite successful.”

While Lopez said that one of the main priorities of Gibson is enrollment, he said retention is another priority.

“She just announced the revamping of the support programs under Dr. Frank Gaytan so I think that’s going to be very helpful in terms of us retaining students,” Lopez said. “It’s not just about bringing them in; it’s making sure that they are here and making reasonable progress towards graduation.”

Lopez mentioned the new Golden Opportunity scholarship for new students enrolling in fall 2019. He said the scholarship is a combination of state funds and NEIU is “matching those funds;” about $1.6 million will be dedicated for new students.

When asked if he’s thought about following Chicago State University’s footsteps and allow all domestic out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition, Lopez said, “NEIU has not considered this idea at the moment.”