KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Thursday marked move-in day for many West Michigan universities and colleges, including Western Michigan University, as they welcomed freshmen and other first-year students.

The fresh faces did not hold back on the expected sightings of futons and mini fridges. It was all a breath of fresh air for university staff, including Barry Olson, who works at the university’s office of student affairs.

“For us, it’s such an exciting time of the year,” Olson said. “We have been, I’ll say, stunted for the past couple of years with the pandemic. We certainly haven’t had this level of interest of living on campus.”

There is more room for them this year. For the first time since the spring 2020 semester, WMU opened their on-campus residence halls back to full capacity. It’s a major post-pandemic checkpoint, after the university saw a 47% occupancy reduction in their buildings.

“For us to now be shifting back toward the residential campus experience is just a great opportunity for (students) to see what college really is,” Olson said.

Parents like Mark Dill are also ecstatic with how campuses like WMU’s are coming alive again.

“Especially with what we dealt with the last few years,” Dill added. “There was a period where Michigan State was deserted. … To see everyone coming back, it’s fantastic.”

Freshman Evan Gatz found his room just in the nick of time, according to his mother, Lori Gatz. She said her son is the first in their family to go to college and now will get to fully experience it on campus.

“When he got his room here, there were only eight left. So I know everybody’s coming,” Lori Gatz laughed. “It’s exciting. It’s making me nervous and anxious. I never dreamed that we would be here and I’m happy to be able to get Evan here because … he really wanted this.”

In addition to on-campus residence halls being fully reopened, university staff also reported a 26% increase in incoming freshmen this year compared to last fall — the largest in at least three years.

“That energy, that community … watching parents being able to go in with their students inside the building, which we weren’t able to do previously. … Being able to see a person’s whole face … all of that matters,” Olson said. “It’s such a great resurgence in the field.”

University staff is still urging any students who get sick to notify their professors and encourages anyone to wear a mask if they ever feel uncomfortable.