Students, parents upset over University of Guelph's 1,300-student waitlist for residence spots

Weeks after the University of Guelph assured potential student newcomers that there would be enough residence spaces for them, students and parents are angry the Ontario school's record enrolment for this fall means hundreds are now on a waitlist.

One student association board member says he's even spoken to some students who are contacting other schools that have accepted them to see if they could still get in.

Morgan Woodill, an incoming first-year student at the University of Guelph, is among about 1,300 students on the residence waitlist.

"Not only was I very stressed, but also very upset," he said.

Woodill is still finishing his high school exams in Toronto. On Saturday, he plans to move several hours north to work for the summer, far from the Guelph rental market.

"I accepted my offer knowing that I'd be away for work in the summer in a remote location with little to no internet access."

'I'm not sure what to do,' student says

Students and parents were told on university tours and via studies released by the school that housing all incoming first-year students wouldn't be an issue.

"Getting that 'we are confident we can provide housing for all students' — that was very exciting for me.

"Now I'm not sure what to do exactly."

According to the Ontario Universities' Application Centre, the University of Guelph has 7,849 confirmed offers of acceptance from students, a 52.6 per cent increase over 2023.

In anticipation of the higher enrolment, the school increased the number of residence spaces at the North, South, East and West on-campus residences, and leased out a former hotel for additional space.

The university said it would also actively pursue community partnerships to house the remaining students.

This all was part of efforts to "enhance financial sustainability," it said. But it also led to the 1,300-student waitlist — something the University of Guelph isn't known for and led Mayor Cam Guthrie to blast the school over the lack of on-campus housing.

A March 11 study on the university's website said it would "continue to consistently accommodate all first-year student requests while also expanding offers for international students to live in residence for the duration of their academic programs."

But in an emailed statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, the university said while its study "indicated we would be in a position to accommodate all first-year student requests to live in residence ... we are now expecting a greater number of first year students than was projected in the data used."

The University of Guelph's library is pictured in July. University libraries across Canada are grappling with the rising costs of academic journal subscriptions.
The University of Guelph says it's looking into community partnerships to house first-year students. More than 1,300 students are on a waitlist to live on campus. (University of Guelph)

Woodill is in the high 300's on that waitlist, leaving him wondering if he'll get a spot.

Woodill's mother, Alex Vamos, said they're trying to "balance hysteria with pragmatism."

"Do we secure some other kind of housing now and then he definitely won't live on campus, or do we wait to see what the university is going to do to support students who are on the waitlist?" she said.

Madilyn Mason is also an incoming freshman and her waitlist number is 650.

She said that after she emailed a university housing representative, she was told it was unlikely she'd land a spot in residence.

Among students not making the waitlist is Paige Jurus of Ancaster, Ont.

"I'm very disappointed the school's put me in this position where I now have to look for alternative options," she said.

Now, Jurus's only option is to go apartment hunting along with so many other students.

"It's hard to look for places because everyone's now trying to look for places to live," she said.

Low rental vacancy rate hinders apartment search

Guelph has a 1.3 per cent rental vacancy rate, one of the lowest rates in an Ontario university town, according to the most recent Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report.

Janice Jurus is helping her daughter Paige in her apartment hunt but hasn't had any luck.

"I've contacted Solstice, which is an outside group of rentals — they're full. There's Alma, which is also another facility that's specific for students — that's full," she said. "So now we're looking at just different options."

Paige said living off campus would be scary and potentially unsafe. But she said her biggest concern would be "missing out on the residential experience for my first year."

"I feel like that's where I can make most of my friends. Pretty upsetting."

Nate Broughton is a board member for the Central Student Association at the University of Guelph.

While he doesn't speak for the board, he said he's amassing support from student leaders, and current and incoming students to form a committee that pushes back against the university over enrolment.

Nate Broughton said he’s amassing support form a committee that pushes back on the Universities over enrolment.
Nate Broughton says he's amassing support from student leaders, and current and incoming students to form a committee that pushes back against the university over enrolment. (Submitted by Nate Broughton)

"People are dropping their acceptances; some people are deferring," he said. "I spoke to a few people that are trying to reach out to other universities and see if they'll honour their acceptance still, even though it's past the deadline."

Broughton said the enrolment numbers affect more than just residence availability — the size of his computer science department, for instance, will increase by 85 per cent.

"It's really shocking because the computer science department themselves were not told about this," he said.

"They were concerned about needing to accommodate, you know, 320 students, for example. And now they're all of a sudden told that they need to have the capacity for 500."

Broughton said that will mean sacrifices. Some classes may need to move online and student support will be even more limited.

"What is this going to mean for their university experience?" he said.

The university has said it will continue to speak with community partners to determine if more housing can be added off campus.