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At University of Tampa, a housing shortage leaves freshmen scrambling

School officials blame “an unexpected turn of events.” Incoming students and their parents say UT should have told them earlier.
Students walk the University of Tampa campus at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Many first-year students who enrolled for fall 2021 were told this week they probably won't be able to live on campus.
Students walk the University of Tampa campus at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Many first-year students who enrolled for fall 2021 were told this week they probably won't be able to live on campus. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published May 21
Updated May 21

When Michael Olivieri’s daughter received an email Wednesday from the University of Tampa, she was stunned.

She, along with many other incoming freshmen, had been placed on a waitlist for on-campus housing and were told they likely would have to find housing elsewhere. Fall enrollment had exceeded the school’s capacity.

Olivieri said his daughter had turned in all her forms on time. But when the university informed her of the issue 19 days after the deadline for when most universities require a decision, she found herself in a bind. The off-campus options for housing added costs that would preclude her from attending after her financial aid had already been worked out, and she was no longer eligible for the financial aid packages she had been offered at other schools where she had been accepted.

Right now, she’s trying to figure out her next steps, but plans to attend a community college in New York.

For incoming freshmen, Olivieri said, the end of their high school experience been disruptive enough

“She was robbed of those years,” he said. “She hasn’t had a normal education experience in two years and this is something she was looking forward to.”

A number of parents have called university offices, posted in Facebook groups and formed an online petition with more than 1,500 signatures. So far, they say, the school has provided little help and few answers.

In a statement, university officials did not answer questions about how much the school was over its capacity for the fall or how many students were on the waitlist. They blamed the problem on “surge of interest” and said “it is unlikely on-campus housing will become available for students on the waiting list.”

“We believe this is due to many factors, including the continued popularity of the Tampa Bay region and UT’s increased reputation,” the statement said. “UT’s successful handling of the pandemic and a universal optimism for a return to normalcy are undoubtedly also factors.”

The statement said that the university does not guarantee on-campus housing for any student, and that housing priority is based on the date in which students submit the housing application.

“UT regrets this unexpected turn of events for students and their families and is working diligently to provide students information about off-campus housing for the 2021-2022 academic year,” the statement said.

The university is encouraging students on the wait list to visit its off-campus housing website for resources.

Suzanne LaRose, who lives in Massachusetts, said she and her son toured the school in April. At the time, they were told freshman live on campus, or possibly at the nearby Barrymore Hotel, where the university has a partnership.

But after her son got the message, they’ve been in a lurch, she said.

“I don’t know what my son is going to do,” she said.

She hasn’t given up hope yet, but every place she’s called costs around $1,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, and so far she hasn’t found any available.

Adam Thorrell, who had booked his family’s plane tickets for move-in weekend as well as to visit, said his daughter was lucky to be able to switch to her second-choice university, though it was past the deadline for acceptance.

The situation, he said, is unfair.

Brooke Slyvestri, who got the news on her last day of high school in Bellingham, Massachusetts, said she burst into tears when she found out.

“Not only am I sad I’m not going to have that college experience but it’s also really stressful because I have no idea where I’m going to live in four months,” she said.

Her mother, Lynda Sylvestri, said the university’s message was vague and abrupt. She said she was shocked the university had left them to search for downtown apartment complexes, where staff members told her she was probably the 100th person who called Wednesday.

“This isn’t their first rodeo,” Lynda Sylvestri said. “When did they know? And how did they feel comfortable telling 18-year-olds to come down and find a place off the street? That’s not the experience for a freshman.”

Staff Writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.