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Michigan State University Students See Chaos After School Closes On Campus Housing


Some students at Michigan State University have had to deal with a chaotic scene. They were preparing to move into residence halls. The school announced classes would move online and closed campus housing. As Michelle Jokisch Polo from member station WKAR reports, that's leaving many thousands of students in a housing lurch.

MICHELLE JOKISCH POLO, BYLINE: It was Tuesday afternoon that students here planning to live either on campus or off campus were told to stay home. The last-minute announcement affects nearly 40,000 students. Fifteen thousand of them were planning to live on campus, and many who have already paid for their fall semester housing. Sue Garza is a parent of both an incoming freshman and a senior at MSU. She's both disappointed and a bit confused by the last-minute change.

SUE GARZA: I'm not really sure what's going to happen. I don't know if our loan will be decreased. I don't know if they'll receive a refund.

JOKISCH POLO: Well, school officials say they'll be issuing refunds, but there are some students whose only housing option is to live on campus. While the university says there will be housing options available because of a job or unsafe situation at home, they can accommodate fewer than 3,000 students.

Aleaha Smith is a senior and a resident assistant. She moved into her dorm last Saturday and was planning to take all her courses online but now says that's all up in the air. For her, the option of moving back home is complicated.

ALEAHA SMITH: Like, I don't know. There's just, like, a lot of family dynamics that are going on. And then, like, if you're staying in your parents' home, like, there's other responsibilities that you have to take care of and everything. And, like, I can't take care of those on top of schooling. You know what I mean?

JOKISCH POLO: For the 24,000 off-campus students, the news brings a different kind of stress. When senior Jay Gooden found out that MSU was going fully online, he reached out to his apartment's property management company, asking if he could get out of his lease.

JAY GOODEN: But they wouldn't let me out of my lease. They told me that I would have to find a subletter to pay the rent until I could find somebody to take over the lease. And I couldn't find anybody that was willing to do that.

JOKISCH POLO: MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. says the university will be encouraging local property management companies to discuss options with students but can't intervene on off-campus housing.

SAMUEL STANLEY JR.: My hope is the landlords in the area will be receptive to students who are caught, particularly those who may be in financial need, make a difference. It's something we're talking to them about, you know, 'cause we really are concerned about students who may have been caught by this.

JOKISCH POLO: Aaron Stephens is mayor of East Lansing. He expects that most of the more than 24,000 students who signed leases for apartments will have to stay put.

AARON STEPHENS: We're going to really encourage property managers and landlords to if not let them get out of the lease completely, give a little bit of accommodation - you know, maybe a decrease in payment, or that might be an extension of time to pay off that debt.

JOKISCH POLO: That's cold comfort for students like Jay Gooden and Aleaha Smith, who made housing decisions before quarantining and now, only two weeks before their first classes, are scrambling to come up with plan B.

For NPR News, I am Michelle Jokisch Polo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michelle Jokisch Polo
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