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Dive Brief:

  • Seeking to free up dorm space, Middlebury College, in Vermont, is offering juniors and seniors who plan to live on-campus $10,000 in exchange for taking the fall and winter terms off.
  • The private liberal arts college is expecting a larger than average number of returning students caused by pandemic-related absences from campus. An estimated 220 students will graduate in February 2024, more than double the usual 100, college officials said in a letter to students Monday.
  • Roughly 30 students will be able to claim the offer on a first-come, first-served basis. Their stipends will be paid out between late December and mid–January, and they will be given preferential status for the housing draw for spring 2024, according to the college.

Dive Insight:

Middlebury’s problem of abundance stems from its flexibility with students’ schedules, according to a letter to college employees. It broadly allowed students to take leaves of absence during the pandemic, delaying their expected graduation dates.

The resulting pile-up has temporarily inflated demand from juniors and seniors for on-campus housing, Middlebury said.

“We want to note that this challenge is not related to the size of the incoming first-year class and that we expect to return to normal undergraduate enrollment levels in the spring, as we will be graduating a larger than usual class,” a Monday letter to faculty said.

The college also plans to roll out study abroad incentives for all students.

Middlebury had explored using its Bread Loaf location — a secondary campus about 11 miles away — to address the housing crisis, but elected not to after weighing the costs and student feedback.

It also considered converting buildings that haven’t previously housed students. This avenue came up short as well, the letter said, since the college didn’t have enough time to complete required renovation work. 

More broadly, colleges are seeing retention rates — where students return to the same institution — recover to pre-pandemic levels.

A vast majority, 95%, of Middlebury’s full-time students who first enrolled in fall 2021 returned the following year, according to federal data. The national average for that time period was 73.4%, per the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.