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Emmadora Boutcher sits in her single occupant dorm room at Machuga Heights on campus at Montclair State University, December 7, 2011, in Montclair, New Jersey. (David Bergeland/The Record/MCT)
Emmadora Boutcher sits in her single occupant dorm room at Machuga Heights on campus at Montclair State University, December 7, 2011, in Montclair, New Jersey. (David Bergeland/The Record/MCT)

Emmadora Boutcher of Teaneck, N.J., loves the privacy of her new single dorm room at Montclair State University.

“I’m so much happier,” said Boutcher, who lived with four others in a suite last year. “As an only child, I really like having my own space.”

Boutcher lives in The Heights, a brand-new dormitory that has more than 800 single rooms. Single rooms were once rare on college campuses, but they are now the rage as more students come to college with no desire for the traditional roommate experience.

“This generation of students has grown up with their private bedrooms,” said Terry Giardino, assistant facilities director at Montclair State. Many also like the security of a single because they think it’s safer for their expensive laptops and other electronics.

Increased interest in single rooms started in the 1990s, but has now become a nationwide trend with many schools planning and building dormitories with singles, often configured in suites with shared bathrooms and lounge areas.

“The days of a common bathroom at the end of the hallway are gone,” declared Karen Pennington, vice president for student development and campus life at Montclair.

Some schools have resisted the trend, clinging to the ideal that communal living is an important part of the university experience. But many have built dorms within the last decade that included large numbers of singles, according to the Ohio-based Association of College and University Housing Officers-International.

The University of Colorado’s Boulder campus has about 200 single beds of nearly 6,400 beds total, said Paula Bland, director of Resident Life for the campus.

Bland said when the buildings were built, single dorms were not as popular. As some of the residence halls undergo renovations, Bland said additional singles or suites — often limiting the number of students sharing rooms and bathrooms — are being added.

Bland said many CU freshmen still want the more traditional roommate experience. The single room additions are more for upperclassmen who might be looking to live on campus but have already experienced roommates.

Returning students get preference, leaving few single rooms for new freshmen, Bland said.

Fifteen-hundred dormitory beds under construction on Rutgers University’s Livingston campus in Piscataway, N.J., will be single rooms, sharing common areas for cooking and bathing, the school said.

But experts say colleges must be sure that the new privacy doesn’t equate to isolation.

“Student desire for single rooms versus housing administrators’ knowledge that students must socialize and form a community is something our membership tries to balance,” said Emily Glenn of the housing officers association. “Often a solution involves building suites, in which each resident has a small bedroom, but shares a bathroom and living space with at least one other person. They also try to make the building’s public spaces inviting, so there’s plenty of incentives to leave the room and socialize.”

The singles in The Heights at Montclair are small — about 8 feet by 10 feet — but comfortably fit a single bed, desk and dresser.

“It’s nice and homey; it has everything I need,” said Arturo Rodriguez, noting that he even has control of the thermostat. Two singles each share a bathroom and a small entryway. There are communal lounge areas at the end of the hallway for studying and hanging out and a kitchen that students can use on the main floor.

Boutcher, a sophomore at Montclair State, said the setup offers the best of all worlds. “I like to spend time with people, but it’s still really nice to have a room to yourself,” she said. “I can control the lights and the music and I don’t have to worry about waking people up.”

Now more than 1,600 — about one-third of those on the Montclair campus — of the 5,500 dorm bedrooms are singles, the large majority in buildings constructed since 2005, Pennington said.

The singles are open to all students at Montclair State. Other schools reserve them for upperclassmen.

“We would never give a freshman a single,” said Angie Bonilla, housing director at Rutgers in Newark, where singles are configured into nearly 90 suites, each with three or four rooms sharing a bathroom and living area. Freshmen “need to meet other students, learn to live with other people and make new friends. It’s a more social aspect to their living.”

The single rooms on Rutgers’ Piscataway campus will also be for upperclassmen, said Bill O’Brien, associate director for residence life. “The social aspect of adapting to a roommate is an important part of the first-year experience,” he said.
Most of the new singles in Piscataway will be configured like a four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a state-of-the-art kitchen. They are set to open in the fall of 2012.

Hitisha Patel, who moved to a single from a double at Montclair, said there are plenty of avenues for interaction. “It’s easy to be involved; there are enough lounge areas and multipurpose areas,” she said.
Indeed, students at the Montclair dormitories have a new recreation center and a food-court-style dining facility featuring several options at each meal.

The price difference between a double and a single at Montclair is not that much — $4,640 versus $5,070 per semester, according to the school.

Kiandra Wilshire, a sophomore from Teaneck, N.J., likes her single but admits she misses some of the camaraderie of having a roommate. “I enjoyed the interaction of having a double,” said Wilshire, who grew up sharing a room with her sister.
Having a suite mate is a bit different because you can shut the door. “The privacy is nice, but it’s not as friendly as sharing a room,” she said. “But for people who had conflicts with roommate, it’s great.”

Whitney Bryen contributed reporting to this story.