Kernel Editorial: Privatized housing would benefit UK

Most of UK’s students don’t live on campus past their freshman and sophomore years, for issues of space and a want to get out of the dorms.

But what if there were more beds? And nicer living spaces?

If UK sells its residence halls to a private company, both are likely to become reality. The company, Education Realty Trust, would build 3,000 new beds over the next decade, as well as renovate many others, all without needing state funds and approval for their construction.

A similar system worked at Western Kentucky University, when in 1999, it sold its residence halls to a nonprofit that now handles all renovations. WKU’s dorms are newer, better looking and overall nicer than UK’s. They have movable wooden furniture and tile floors that are easier to clean, along with community bathrooms with private stalls for each shower and toilet.

Related link: Making UK housing a better home away from home

WKU has about 7,000 less students than UK, but a greater number of its students live on campus past their sophomore years. Officials at the university credit that to a better sense of community in on-campus housing and nice, affordable spaces where that community can build.

If UK builds 3,000 new beds, roughly 33 percent of its students could live on campus, compared with 22 percent who can now. WKU can only house 25 percent of its students on campus.

Think of the possibilities. A nice place to live that’s close to class could be a deal breaker for a student who’s on the fence about attending UK. Renovating residence halls wouldn’t be a financial burden on a university struggling with state budget cuts year after year. And the cost for students to live in these nicer halls might not rise by much — at WKU, for example, students saw an average $400 per semester increase, some to live in dorms that included air conditioning and carpet for the first time.

Brian Kuster, the executive director for housing and residence life at WKU, said newer laws would now make what WKU did — transferring its housing to a nonprofit — much harder. So selling them to a private firm seems like the next best thing.

UK could do to improve campus for students, and in a much more timely manner. If UK sells to Education Realty Trust, a new 600-bed residence hall could be available by fall of 2013.

Let’s get the wrecking ball rolling.