Some Tennessee State University students are living the suite life this semester.
Due to an unparalleled number of students requesting on-campus housing for the fall 2021 semester, Tennessee State University rented out an entire Best Western Plus hotel to accommodate the dorm overflow.
The semester-long lease to take over an entire hotel cost the university $1.938 million, Frank Stevenson, TSU associate vice president and dean of student affairs, told the Tennessean.
“Once we made it clear about (COVID-19 safety protocols returning to campus), we realized that we were going to have an issue with housing …” Stevenson said. “With COVID, and not being able to really just pile kids in rooms, having to be cognizant of social distancing. Having to run our keys on those things really contributed to the space issue.”
Stevenson said this wasn’t the first time TSU had to offer overflow housing for students — they’ve had to supply housing for about a week or so in the past, but never an entire semester.
Move-in began Wednesday. Students who would be relocated to off-campus housing were notified on Thursday via email. The fall 2021 semester at TSU started Monday.
The Tennessean obtained a copy of the initial email sent to students who would be living off campus.
Due to the increased number of applications, our housing requests have exceeded our normal bed space capacity on campus. We understand the importance of student housing, especially for those that do not reside locally. Thus, we have arranged temporary housing for the overflow of applicants. This is to notify you that you are qualified to receive a fall 2021 room assignment in temporary overflow housing. Your space will be available for you to check-into this Friday between 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.
Stevenson said they weren’t able to say where exactly the students would be living until it was approved by the State Building Commission. Upon approval, students were notified via email with the location and room number.
The State Building Commission gave TSU emergency approval to lease the Best Western on Thursday, Stevenson said. Approval from the state is necessary whenever a university or state entity enters a lease of over $150,000.
Students who were relocated to overflow housing in the hotel are still paying for housing, Stevenson said, but at a discounted rate than they would on campus.
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TSU sees increased, unprecedented demand for student housing
Stevenson said there are 2,950 beds on campus and right now, TSU is housing a bit over 3,300 students.
The university acknowledged the demand for student housing on Aug. 10, stating in a press release that 97% of requests have been fulfilled for the fall semester. The university cited the largest freshman class in five years (1,300 students) as a source for the demand.
Stevenson also mentioned a number of juniors and seniors — who would typically live off-campus — made the return to on-campus student housing due to the high cost of living in Nashville.
“We noticed that several years ago that our students were struggling to live off-campus. Living in Nashville has changed in the last 10 years,” Stevenson said. “You include COVID on top of that, meaning that some (students) haven’t been able to secure jobs, to rent houses and apartments in the city, which created somewhat of a perfect storm for us.”
Monthly rent in Nashville can run anywhere between $1,000-$2,000 on average.
According to the Greater Nashville Apartment Association, downtown Nashville has the highest average monthly rent at $1,929 and the Parkwood-Union Hill area has the lowest at $1,060.
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Students living in hotel have access to amenities, 24-hour security
About 250 students are now living in hotel rooms about 10 minutes off campus at the Best Western Plus Executive Residency Nashville. Some university staff, like security and resident assistants, live at the hotel as well. Stevenson noted that the majority of these students are those who applied for housing late.
Stevenson said the Best Western was just renovated and the hotel moved its guests to a different Best Western location to accommodate the students.
“We were able to take over the entire facility, which was important for us in terms of safety and the experience we wanted for our students,” Stevenson said. “So for all practical purposes, we turned that into a dorm.”
TSU secured the hotel property with a fence for safety and implemented 24-hour armed and unarmed security. There is a shuttle service to and from campus that runs from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week.
TSU sophomore Tyler Thompson told the Tennessean there are rules similar to living on campus, like no parties, no weapons and no smoking.
Students also have access to perks they might not get on campus, like hotel housekeeping service three times a week for fresh sheets and towels and free breakfast every morning, Stevenson said.
In the email sent to students notifying them of overflow housing, students were told they did not need to bring bed linens, pillows or toilet paper. They were also told that cable TV would be provided, but they should bring a personal TV if they wish to connect a streaming or gaming device.
In the hotel rooms, students have a kitchen, equipped with a full size refrigerator and freezer, a two-burner stove and a microwave. There is also a flat screen TV with cable channels and a couch in the room, according to the Best Western room listing and a TikTok video Thompson posted.
New residence hall under construction at TSU to be ready for fall 2022
Stevenson said he doesn’t anticipate the same dorm overflow issues happening in the spring.
“We’ll graduate several hundred students and at the end of this semester, we don’t anticipate needing any off-campus space in this way,” Stevenson said. “The numbers just drop dramatically in spring compared to the fall.”
To prevent this issue from coming up again in the future, TSU has a residence hall under construction, slated to be completed in 11 months, Stevenson said.
This new $70 million facility will fit 700 beds, Stevenson said.
“Unlike any other public institution in our state, we’re the only public institution in a city like Nashville,” Stevenson said. “Austin Peay, they don’t have this problem. MTSU, they don’t have this problem. They’re not in Nashville, so we recognize that.”
Daniella Medina is a digital producer for the USA TODAY Network. Follow her on Twitter @danimedinanews.