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University Attempts to Tackle Grad Housing

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In an attempt to remedy a graduate housing dilemma at UCI, the university has contracted American Campus Communities to build Vista del Campo in addition to expanding Palo Verde. Both are set to open in 2004.
Palo Verde additions will be located behind the existing Palo Verde community. Palo Verde is located behind Middle Earth off of East Peltason Drive and Palo Verde Road.
While university officials say the added construction will help remedy the current lack of graduate housing, some students question whether these developments will actually benefit graduate students who survive on tight budgets.
Cara Laney, a second-year graduate student in psychology and social behavior explains some of the hurdles that prevent students from attending UCI for their graduate degrees.
‘If I had known it was going to be this bad, I’m not sure I would have come [to UCI],’ Laney said. She added that she has been on the waiting list for housing for 14 or 15 months.
According to Shelly Brown, a second-year psychology and social behavior graduate student at UCI, the cost of living expenses is one of many topics that a graduate student must think about before selecting a college.
‘If they can’t afford to live, then how can they go to school?’ Brown said.
The majority of graduate students looking for jobs turn to teaching assistant positions on campus in order to make ends meet. However, the pay a T.A. typically receives barely covers the monthly rent a graduate student must pay.
‘If you’re lucky you get paid to go to grad school, but even in this situation, money is tight, and housing, especially when provided by the school, should be cheap,’ said Monica Siegenthaler, first-year molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry graduate student.
Lisa Cornish, executive director for graduate and family housing, said the university is trying its best to solve the existing graduate housing problem by extending housing projects and adding new housing communities.
‘With the highest demand of graduate student housing being fall quarter, the building of Vista del Campo and the extension of Palo Verde will off-load some of the wait time,’ Cornish said.
According to Cornish, the entire extension of Palo Verde will cost UCI approximately $83.5 million, which will come mostly from financial bonds.
‘The Palo Verde extension will house about 378 beds for graduate students in fall 2004 and will be completed in 2005 with an additional 504 beds,’ Cornish said.
The building of Vista del Campo, an apartment complex geared towards housing both graduate and undergraduate students will provide an additional 252 beds for graduate students with each student receiving his or her own bedroom, said Richard Orr, the director of campus asset management.
Orr believes Vista del Campo will open by August 2004, with the leasing office opening on October 1.
According to Cornish, the collaboration between UCI and American Campus Communities is made possible by investments into college housing by a number of outside companies.
‘The best interest was to not bring too much debt [to the university],’ Cornish said.
In the late 1980s, American Campus Communities began using private money to lift the financial burden of building housing communities from universities.
According to Orr, the university selected American Campus Communities from the 18 groups who submitted formal proposals.
‘American Campus Communities was selected because of their performance, cost, their willingness to work with our time frame and their achievements in developing housing complexes for students,’ Orr said.
Still, some students say new housing communities are not necessarily the easy solution to the housing crisis.
‘It depends on how many new students they plan to let in, and whether they give all the new places to them,’ Laney said. ‘It also depends on whether they dramatically raise rent for grad students as they are threatening to do. If that happens, more apartments may not help any because students won’t be able to afford them anyway.’
Cornish believes the new housing arrangements will offer some sort of solace from high-priced apartments.
According to both Brown and Cornish, graduate students bring a lot of work and help in the research fields and that attracting graduate students is critical.
‘If we want to be a top research school, we need to have more graduate students enrolled in UCI,’ Brown said.
Cornish states that graduate students are important not only for being a part of the academic work force, but for working on research projects.
‘Graduate students are significant players in the academic setting,’ Cornish said. ‘A lot of staff members have outstanding ideas, but need talented people to work these projects.’