CEDAR CITY — The Cedar City Council learned that the student housing crisis at Southern Utah University is worse than previously thought, then got some good news about the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Scott Wyatt, President of Southern Utah University, addressed the council Wednesday. In a telephone conversation after the meeting, Wyatt told Cedar City News that for the moment, SUU has stopped taking applications for in-person classes this fall because of the housing shortage.
“We’ve had some students tell us they’ve had a hard time finding housing and they’ve chosen to go to another school,” Wyatt said. “We’ll continue to reevaluate, and it’s an ongoing, moving thing, but right now we’ve stopped taking applications for face-to-face classes. We’re still accepting applications for online classes.”
Wyatt told the council that this fall, SUU is projected to grow about 7% in enrollments, but housing has not kept pace with the increasing size of the student population.
“There’s actually less housing available for students today than there was a year ago,” Wyatt said. “This year we’re actually short. Our best estimate is there’s somewhere between 500 and 1000 fewer beds available for students this year than there were last year.”
There are many reasons for the shortfall, according to Wyatt, beginning with the overall housing shortage across the state of Utah.
“As people are moving to Utah, there’s a shortage of supplies to build new houses,” Wyatt said. “And homeowners are realizing that a lot of the buildings that have been used for student housing can be sold to families instead of rented to students.”
The onset of COVID-19 disrupted the student housing market as well.
“A lot of our students took courses online instead of being here,” Wyatt said, noting that 55% of SUU students were present for face-to-face teaching, while 45% attended classes virtually last year.
“All students had the option of taking 100% of their classes online,” Wyatt said. “With less renters, a lot of landlords struggled to pay their bills. So a lot of them thought that would be a good time to sell.”
The pandemic and the tight market were just two of the reasons contributing to the housing shortage for SUU students.
“Whatever other reasons there are, they’ve just all combined into something that we weren’t in a million years expecting, which is a significant shortage,” Wyatt said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Wyatt told the council he just wanted to provide the update.
“We’re not asking for any particular action on your part,” he explained.
Council member Scott Phillips asked Wyatt if the university has current or future plans to develop additional residence housing on or near campus.
“We don’t have any plans in the near future to build ourselves,” Wyatt answered, saying the university continues to reach out to any developers and local residents that would like to talk about possible partnerships.
“We really like the private sector to develop housing rather than the government,” Wyatt said. “The biggest reason is that private developers can build less expensively than we can.”
He noted that the university’s division of facilities and construction management has standards that are far above building codes.
“So we’re far more interested in helping the private sector,” Wyatt said. “We have a couple of interesting concepts; hopefully some of those will work.”
Utah Shakespeare Festival on track for full schedule
Wyatt also serves on the Board of Governors of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He switched hats and updated the council about this summer’s coming season.
“You’ll be happy to know that ticket sales at this point in time are at 98.2% of last year,” Wyatt said. “Your little theater is now the largest theater company in America.”
While most theater companies across the country downscaled dramatically after the pandemic year, the Utah Shakespeare Festival plans for a full schedule this summer and will present more plays than any theater company in the country.
“We took a chance and said the community needs this,” Wyatt said. “Now we’re the biggest theater company in America. We’re back.”
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