Some local University of Iowa students opt to live at home instead of on campus in fall 2020

Amid concern for finances and health due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students share why they are choosing to live at home and commute to campus this academic year.

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Tate Hildyard

University of Iowa freshman, Julian Wemmie sits down for a Zoom interview from his home on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Due to health concerns regarding the Coronavirus, the university is changing procedure in ways that encourage some students to do the entire semester virtually.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter


Incoming freshman at the University of Iowa Acacia Lopez said her experience on campus at band and robotics events heavily influenced her decision to commit to the school as she made her college decisions.

“I eventually fell in love with the campus, and just the way it felt being there,” Lopez said. “And it started to feel like home because I was always there for literally every event that I was in for anything you could think of.”

Though the time she spent as a high school student at the UI led to her choice to become a Hawkeye, Lopez said she actually only plans to be on campus two or three days a week this upcoming fall semester.

Lopez said she initially planned to live in a residence hall. However, her roommate decided to not come to Iowa after the pair picked out their room. Though she found another roommate, Lopez, who lives in DeWitt, said she realized then that only two of her classes would be in person.

“I thought it’d be better for me financially and health-wise to just stay home and then drive out,” she said. “I only live an hour and a half away from campus.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the UI’s anticipated residence occupancy for the fall semester is 5,700 — falling short of its initial projection in February of 6,225.

The UI’s residence system budget totals just over $5 million — a nearly $8 million decrease from its initial revenue projection in February, after adjustments for current occupancy project and the impact of COVID-19.

Director of Housing Administration Virginia Ibrahim-Olin said the numbers are always changing, and the university won’t really know how many people are living in the dorms until the campus census is taken on the 10th day of classes.

“When we have fewer students that live on campus, the challenging piece is that we have some fixed expenses,” Ibrahim-Olin said. “We have personnel, utilities, debt payments — those are all managed through room and board, and right now we don’t know the total financial impact of having less students in the halls, but we know that there will be some financial impact of having fewer folks with us.”

RELATED: Iowa regents approve fiscal 2021 budget with decreased state funding, tuition revenue amid COVID-19 pandemic

Ibrahim-Olin said some students who have canceled their housing contracts have noted that all of their classes are online, or that they have personal or familial health circumstances that made living at home a safer option.

“I think it’s important for folks to know that we understand that it’s a personal experience for everyone and that there is no one right way to be a Hawkeye,” Ibrahim-Olin said. “And so, whether they choose to come right now, or they choose to engage online right now, or they choose to come to campus in January, they’re still a valued member of the Hawkeye family. And we look forward to connecting with them online or in person, in whatever way works best for them.”

Julian Wemmie, an incoming freshman from the Iowa City area, said he decided student life will probably not be very active on campus this semester when he saw the UI’s fall plans adjusted for COVID-19 in mid-June.

“I think with the recent rise in COVID rates and based on the universities’ regulations that there’s a decent chance that social life is gonna be pretty dampened, if nonexistent,” Wemmie said. “And so with that in mind, living in Iowa City already, I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to live at home because … I’d rather live at home than spend all my time studying in a dorm, a small room, with someone I basically don’t know.”

Wemmie said he could miss out on some of the traditional university experience if cases of COVID-19 go down, but if not he “probably saved a few thousand dollars, without missing too much and staying on top of it academically, too.”

Lopez said she is hopeful she will be able to live on campus next semester or her sophomore year. Until then, she said she doesn’t think living off campus will affect her freshman experience too much, and she plans to travel into Iowa City if an event she wants to attend comes up.

Other people who are considering staying at home should learn to adapt, Lopez said.

“This pandemic has affected a lot of people in a lot of different ways, so we’ve all had to kind of adapt to things,” Lopez said. “So I think this is one of the ways that people can kind of look at that, as just another adaptation.”

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