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University of Tampa moves to quell housing shortage with tuition breaks

The offer includes “deferral grants” that could cut the cost of attendance by thousands.
The University of Tampa is now offering "deferral grants" to students who wish to enroll next year instead of this fall to avoid a housing crunch on campus.
The University of Tampa is now offering "deferral grants" to students who wish to enroll next year instead of this fall to avoid a housing crunch on campus. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published May 26
Updated May 26

After a miscue that left its freshman class overbooked, the University of Tampa is offering a deal to students scrambling to find off-campus housing: Start next year instead and get a discount.

The price break will come in the form of a $3,500 per year “deferral grant” applied to tuition. It comes as parents of incoming students have taken to social media to express frustration over a lack of clarity from the school about what caused the problem. Many say they are having to absorb larger-than-anticipated costs for off-campus apartments in downtown Tampa.

The university posted an online Q&A, updated Tuesday, that points families to resources. It says the volume of calls and emails is preventing the staff from answering all of them.

University spokesman Eric Cardenas said in an email he could not divulge how many students above capacity had been admitted for the fall because that information is proprietary.

“Our goal is to provide access to the UT educational experience to as many deserving students as possible,” his email said. “This year’s admission cycle was challenging due to large surge of interest in UT, coupled with late college decision-making by students and their families because of the pandemic.”

The university’s website said those who decide to defer can retain their merit-based scholarships awarded from the university and would be given priority for on-campus housing in 2022.

They also provided a link to a College Board list of other schools that still may be accepting applicants. Many schools have a May 1 deadline to commit, and several parents expressed frustration their students could not attend their second or third choice and their financial aid packages had been set with the University of Tampa. They faulted university officials for not telling them about the situation earlier, when they could have made other plans.

The university said those who no longer wish to attend also could request a refund of their $500 deposit. It said those who still wish to attend but live off campus could request their $200 housing deposit back if they remove themselves from the waitlist.

The average cost for undergraduate students at the University of Tampa, including on-campus room and board, is $44,464 per year, according to the school’s website.

“It is not likely that an on-campus housing assignment will become available, and we are unable to provide your specific place or number on the waiting list due to the complex nature of the assignment process,” the website said. “However, students on the waiting list are typically assigned based on the date their housing application was submitted.”

The university has capacity for 4,700 students across 12 residence halls, including one off-site residence hall. It also works with the nearby Barrymore Hotel to place students, but said it too is at capacity.

Michelle Ekiz said she wanted to find any way for her son to attend UT, his top choice. Through the pandemic, she worked as a nurse and the diner her husband runs in New Jersey struggled. After a year of loss, including prom and graduation, things seemed to be looking up. They bought T-shirts and banners and planted flags in their front yard.

Then they found themselves scrambling to find housing in Tampa. Ekiz found a spot for her son at The Henry, the main downtown apartment complex recommended on the university’s website. It cost about $16,000 compared to the $12,000 on-campus option that would have included a meal plan. But because the deferral option came out days after the initial announcement, Ekiz said she felt duped.

“We weren’t able to make an informed decision,” she said. “We were so scared and rushed. We just feel kind of tricked. ... It seems like they just don’t care.”

Cardenas said in the email that UT staff were unavailable for interviews because they were “diligently assisting students on the housing waiting list.”

Times staff writer Jeff Solochek contributed to this report.