Florida Atlantic University is trying to persuade students to spend more time on campus, all night actually.
Increasing the number of students living on campus is part of FAU's efforts to create a more traditional experience for students in Boca Raton. Over the past decade, the university has built three freshmen dorms and two towers of upscale apartments, with amenities such as restaurants, computer labs, fitness centers, sand volleyball courts, and in one facility, a large swimming pool.
But it is not having the hoped-for impact. FAU's occupancy rate dropped to 83 percent this spring after having been at 93 to 95 percent in recent years.
"I like living on campus, and it's a great experience, but it's kind of expensive," said Ana Pimentel, 18, of Orlando, who lives in Parliament Hall, a new freshmen residence hall.
National studies have found on-campus students perform better and graduate sooner than those living off-campus, FAU officials say. So they are now asking the board of trustees to allow them to freeze housing rates for returning students.
Some say it's not enough, that housing prices should be lowered to stay competitive.
FAU's oldest residence hall, the 1960s-era Alonquin Hall, charges about $740 a month for a single room. But in newer dorms, students pay about $800 a month to share a room and $1,100 for a single. Some units in the luxury Innovation Village Apartments, complete with a pool, volleyball courts, picnic areas and fitness center, cost nearly $1,400 a month.
Trent Silvers, 19, lived in a freshman dorm last year, but decided to share a house with three others this year.
"I live in a house a mile from the ocean and it's way cheaper than living here," he said. "After utilities I pay about $650."
A few years ago, FAU couldn't open new residence halls fast enough, and had waiting lists in the hundreds. It built the 600-bed Heritage Park Towers in 2004, the 600-bed Glades Park Towers in 2007, the luxury 1,200-bed Innovation Village Apartments in 2011 and Parliament Hall in 2013.
Charles Brown, vice president for student affairs, said he doesn't think the university has overbuilt.
"I think our marketing initiatives weren't as great as they should have been," he said.
Another problem is FAU allowed too many out-of-town freshmen to live off-campus, Brown said.
Richard Vedder, director of the national Center for College Affordability & Productivity, said schools have lost sight of the need for low-cost housing in their race to compete for the best and brightest students.
"They're playing as if the dormitories are being run by the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons instead of a Motel 6 dorm environment," Vedder said. "They say that's what the kids want. But the kids will borrow and don't realize the consequences."
Orlando Sentinel Staff writer Denise Ordway contributed to this report.
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