Online housing centralized

StephanieTomasson_architectureresidentialcolleges-53
Photo by Stephanie Tomasson.

To streamline the complicated and often dramatic housing process, nine of Yale’s residential colleges are switching to a new online system this year.

For the past several years, many colleges have experimented with their own online housing systems. After these systems gained popularity and other colleges sought computerized programs, the Yale College Dean’s Office pursued development of a more centralized system in 2013. Hosted by Yale Information Technology Services (ITS), the new system uses StarRez — a student housing software program popular at many universities — and can perform all aspects of the housing process, allowing students to register, form suite groups and select their rooms online. Though residential colleges have opted to adopt the system to different degrees, administrators said all colleges will still conduct the lottery process in person to maintain transparency and preserve tradition.

According to Associate Dean of Physical Resources John Meeske, Berkeley College, Ezra Stiles College, Pierson College and Saybrook College will be using the full system this spring, while Branford College, Jonathan Edwards College, Morse College, Silliman College and Timothy Dwight College will be using limited versions of the system. Trumbull College, Davenport College and Calhoun College will not be using the new system this year.

“It was a challenge to design something that works for everyone, but [the new system] is flexible enough that it can accommodate everyone,” Meeske said.

Meeske said three or four different electronic housing systems of varying capabilities existed among the colleges last year, but it was difficult for the YCDO to maintain multiple systems. Other colleges did not use an online system at all, with some sticking post-it notes onto white boards with floorplans when students chose their suites.

After consulting Yale ITS about how to create a more centralized system, Meeske said the office decided to use StarRez, which has been successful at other universities. Yale Conference and Event Services had also already purchased the program for its own use. Director of Strategic Communications and former Dean of Saybrook Paul McKinley said StarRez offered the level of technological support and flexibility necessary to meet the needs of Yale’s housing process.

McKinley said a more centralized system will help the University implement any future large-scale changes to undergraduate housing more efficiently. Information in each college’s system will be automatically sent to the Registrar’s Office and seeded into the Registrar’s software, rather than delivered in stages, Meeske said.

The new system also accommodates variations in the each residential college’s housing process rules, architecture and suite configurations, McKinley said. Berkeley, for example, designates specific suites for sophomores, while housing options for sophomores in Pierson depend on the choices of seniors and juniors.

Because students will be able to see others forming or dissolving suite groups on the new system, Dean of Pierson Amerigo Fabbri said the new system will hold students accountable in making decisions and reduce drama.

“It makes it public, rather than keeping it unspoken, which will help in the end,” Fabbri said. “There will be hard feelings but [the new system] requires people to address the situation.”

Fabbri said the new system will also decrease the margin for error. In the past, student housing committees had to manually determine the number of students planning to live off-campus, the number of rooms required for each class and the number of required annexed rooms. These calculations will now be computerized, he said.

Administrators from the nine colleges using the system this semester said they have chosen to use the system in different ways.

Fabbri said Pierson is using the system for every step of the housing process. Though the Pierson room draw will take place in the Pierson Dining Hall, Fabbri said the new system will keep track of which suites remain available as the draw progresses. If students bring their laptops to the room draw, they will be able to see suites disappear from the list as the draw progresses.

Dean of Trumbull Jasmina Besirevic-Regan said she chose to keep Trumbull’s existing housing system, in part because it allowed her to start the housing process earlier in February to minimize stress for her students.

“The system they’re offering has bells and whistles, but I don’t need it,” Dean Besirevic said. “Sometimes the simpler, the better, so my college has chosen to hold on to our own system and see how things go.”

McKinley said Calhoun chose to use its own, more familiar system because the Dean of Calhoun’s term only began in January. Davenport, he said, decided to see how the system works this year before implementing it.

Alexandra Krause ’15, co-chair of TD’s housing committee, said she supported her college’s decision to partially adopt the system while still conducting room selections manually.

“I think the manual way tends to work better because it allows for talks and negotiations,” Krause said. “You can talk to people to make sure you can still live with them.”

Joohee Son ’15, co-chair of Saybrook’s housing committee, said the new system is similar to Saybrook’s old online system. However, it is less accessible to students on the housing committee because it is an official program, she said.

Approximately 87 percent of Yale’s 5,409 undergraduates live on campus.

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