Why Northwestern is pursuing the possibility of housing students in hotels

The Chicago university began exploring this option for quarantining purposes in addition to potentially leasing out the majority of apartment buildings
By: | July 7, 2020
Northwestern University is pursuing the possibility of hotel student housing to quarantine students who are infected with COVID-19. Colleges and universities might also have to create separate domestic and international student housing options since the CDC mandates that anyone who travels abroad must self-isolate for two weeks.Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Universities are pursuing the possibility of housing students in hotels this fall during the pandemic. Northwestern University began exploring the option of hotel student housing in April for those infected with COVID-19  rather than allowing them to stay in residential halls.

“We think single-occupancy residential halls is the best solution overall, which significantly shrinks our capacity to house students on campus since space will be at such a premium,” says Luke Figora, senior associate vice president of the Illinois university. “What we are considering is reserving rooms at these hotels for any quarantining activities instead of taking 100 beds offline in one of our residential halls, which will just sit there empty.”

Another option besides hotel student housing would involve pursuing master lease agreements with large apartment buildings that would require the university to rent approximately 75% of their rooms. “We are currently having conversations about whether there is student demand for this and whether or not we can sign that sort of an agreement at a discount,” says Figora who is also chief risk and compliance officer.

One way to quarantine students

In the spring, Northwestern created a self-isolation space for students waiting for test results where employees picked up and dropped off food at a central point in the building.


Related: Reconfiguring residence halls for the COVID-era

Related: How is COVID-19 impacting student housing?

Related: Outlook is cloudy for international students, study abroad


“We developed a process with our on-campus food service vendor to prepare prepackaged meals, and students had specific schedules where they would pick up their food and bring it back to their room,” says Figora. “We would have to develop a similar protocol in a hotel setting, where the hotel either prepares the food or we contact that service out.”

International student housing

Over the last four months, Northwestern University residential services has housed approximately 250 international students who cannot leave the country due to travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19.

“Right now, the CDC says that anyone traveling from abroad has to self-isiolate or quarantine upon their arrival for two weeks, but there doesn’t appear to be a requirement for domestic travel,” says Figora. “That could force institutions to provide different housing options for international and domestic students. That is another option we are thinking through.”

In addition to exploring international student housing options, the university plans to revisit a newly adopted policy that requires students to live on campus for two years and possibly suspend that requirement for one year.

“Even when our decisions weren’t fully baked, we still had employees start logistical and operational planning for a myriad of situations rather than wait until we had some firm answers because, as we all know, decisions don’t happen overnight in higher ed,” says Figora. “Leaders need to think about their priorities and the equity issues that might need to be addressed, so it is crucial to get the right people to together to make those decisions as early as possible.”

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