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An HBCU will use decommissioned shipping containers to house students

Posted at 11:18 AM, Feb 28, 2023

Many parents who send their kids to college want to know that their children will be in stable housing.

A 2022 report that surveyed students at historically Black colleges and universities shows that more than half of students said they struggled to maintain safe, affordable, and consistent housing.

Fisk University, an HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee, has a plan to address the issue. Decommissioned shipping containers are being retrofitted into dorm rooms for the 2023 fall semester.

Fisk University Executive Vice President Jens Frederiksen says a trustee brought the solution to the table as an affordable way to help the university house its growing population.

"The reality is we've grown so fast,” Frederiksen said. “Enrollment has grown roughly 41%-42% in four-and-a-half years."

The inside of each container will have a bed, lounge area, kitchen and bathroom.

"I think the beauty of it is you can actually stack them up to levels of four is what we had originally looked at,” Frederiksen said. “These are stacked in levels of two. So you could basically upload two more containers on top and create a total of 200-bed availability."

It's not an entirely new idea. The College of Idaho was the first school in the nation to transform shipping containers into dorm rooms in 2020.

Frederiksen said students like how it's a sustainable solution. Sophomore Gift Eni says sustainability is very important to many students.

"It's repurposing something that was old and making it new," Eni said. “As soon as the videos dropped, like they did the tour of the inside and we were all 'I don't know how we apply to this, but I need to apply to it immediately. I need to be living here like yesterday.'"

Frederiksen said other universities are already reaching out with interest in doing something similar.

With real estate prices continuing to soar nationwide, he said creative solutions to house students are necessary.

"Real estate prices are, at this point, a prohibitive factor, which then means students to live off campus would live 35, 40 minutes away," Frederiksen said.

"I feel like it makes school more accessible,” Eni said. “That's important. And you have to be able to get to school on time when you need to be here."

The only challenge now is deciding who will be the first to live in the shipping containers.

"I think to date, we've probably had 30 prospective students who called and said, 'If I choose Fisk, do I get to be in the containers?’" Frederiksen said. “And we're like, 'No, we can't leverage that as a decision-making tool'. The reality is we're going to end up doing some kind of lottery."