UW offers students $5,000, free food, housing to live off campus due to space constraints

MADISON, Wis. – With housing space limited, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this year were offered unique incentives to live off campus. Some 276 students took the school’s offer of either free meals, housing or $5,000. 

“We offered them an incentive of $5,000 if they chose to live off campus or we offered them free housing for the year in our Eagle Heights community, if it was a first-year student, for them we offered them a free dining plan if they chose to live off campus,” said Brendon Dybdahl, the director of marketing and communications for UW Housing.

A record-sized freshman class, caused by predictive class size models being inaccurate, has caused similar problems nationwide, but at UW, the school guarantees first-year students housing. The school’s residence hall capacity is 9,000, and with the university recording its largest-ever freshman class, they had to get creative.

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For sophomore Savannah Swartz, it was a blessing to move to the Eagle Heights apartment community typically home to graduate students, researchers and staff members.  

“I could have a choice if I wanted to still stay in my residence hall, but I decided to take the free apartment here in Eagle Heights,” she said.

Other students chose to move off-campus.

“Seventy-six students chose to take the Eagle Heights offer, and then there were roughly 200 students that took us up on either the dining offer or the $5,000 offer,” Dybdahl said.

For Swartz, adding a roommate and a 15- to 30-minute bus ride to class was a no-brainer.

“My first reaction was I don’t even think I had words, I think my jaw dropped, and then I looked up at my mom and said, ‘Hey look at what I can do,’ and she said, ‘Um, take the free apartment, are you kidding?’” Swartz said.

Like an overbooked airplane, UW Housing allowed some to stay while enticing others to move, and many students like it, but it won’t be the new normal.

“Our satisfaction ratings for residents and their success seems to not be too much different from past years, but we would like to be back to where the buildings were designed to be,” Dybdahl added.