Housing Shortage Indicative of Larger Problems at Oberlin

This fall, Oberlin welcomes its largest first-year class on record for the second year in a row. Many departments, such as Campus Dining Services and the Office of the Registrar, are figuring out how to adapt to accommodate the influx of students, but Residential Education has been under noticeable strain as it tries to find living spaces for everyone. These difficulties have immediate consequences for students, but they are also indicative of a pattern at Oberlin. 

According to the Office of Institutional Research, Oberlin College of Arts and Sciences received 10,340 applications for the class of 2026, eclipsing last year’s record-setting 9,243 applications and the 7,979 applications received the year before. The class of 2025 was the largest incoming class in at least 20 years, with 777 students in the College and 87 more in the Conservatory. According to Manuel Carballo, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, this year’s first-year class has, in total, 893 students, including transfers. The size of these last two first-year classes was due, in part, to pandemic-related deferrals — but that isn’t the only thing at play. 

More students are now applying to Oberlin because it has become easier to do so. Over the past few years, the Office of Admissions has eliminated several aspects of the application process such as the application fee, the supplemental essay, and the SAT/ACT requirement. Now, people who can’t pay application fees or don’t have time to write extra essays may have an easier time applying to Oberlin. I applaud these changes. 

By driving up applications, Oberlin can increase class sizes — and tuition revenue — while maintaining their selective acceptance rate. I can’t say for certain that this was the motivation behind these changes, but it is an effect that the Admissions Office could have predicted. 

Larger incoming class sizes mean that more students get the chance to attend Oberlin, but it also means that Oberlin has less room for its students. ResEd has recently struggled to meet demands for housing. Last year, they converted dorm lounges into rooms, sent out an email asking upperclassmen to secure off-campus housing a month before students returned to campus, and even used The Hotel at Oberlin for student housing. This year, they had to stretch the capacity of some residential spaces by assigning extra students to them, even, in a few instances, placing upperclassmen in housing with first-years. A few weeks ago, ResEd also considered pairing Resident Assistants with roommates, even though single rooms are part of the job agreement. 

ResEd’s handling of the situation isn’t ideal, but they don’t have much control over the matter. They can’t decide how many students Oberlin admits, but they still have to figure out how to stretch the available housing to fit everyone. They’re just trying to compensate for a mess they didn’t make. If I were them, I’d probably try the same tactics. 

Over enrollment is also not entirely the fault of the admissions office. Rather, it’s part of a pattern at Oberlin and in higher education in general: putting finances above student interest. Recently, Oberlin has faced pressure to cut costs across the board, as evidenced by several significant cost-reducing changes, such as outsourcing the dining and health services to AVI Foodsystems and Harness Health Partners respectively. 

The Oberlin administration deserves criticism for poor planning and foresight. Administrators should have considered their ability to accommodate more students as they set admissions and enrollment targets. While it is valid for upperclassmen to be frustrated about resources on campus being stretched, it is important to remember that no one person or group is responsible for the current housing crisis. Every member of the large first-year class deserves to be here, and I am glad that so many people have the chance to get to know and love Oberlin the way I do. Regardless of the challenges stated above, it’s worth celebrating that so many more people are getting an Oberlin College education. 

Nobody can change the number of students on campus this year. We can adapt to the crowded dorm rooms and King hallways and choose to see the extra first-years as an excellent addition to our community. Now, I think our focus should be on pressuring the administration to put its students first so we don’t end up in this situation again, especially now that there are more of us.