On-campus housing requirement announced for incoming freshman
UALR administrators announced late last month a newly adopted policy that will require first-time freshman enrolled full time to live in campus residential housing beginning with the Fall 2013 academic semester.
The policy, which UALR officials say should contribute to the academic success of applicable students, will also require students to purchase Sodexo meal plans for each semester of their freshman year. The annual cost to live on campus with a basic meal plan is just over $7,300, according to the Office of Student Housing.
“National and institutional research has documented that students living on-campus are more successful in making academic progress,” according to the policy document. “UALR students living on campus have higher grade point averages and complete more credit hours leading toward improved retention and graduation rates. In support of student success, entering students will be required to become a part of the on-campus community.”
The same document states a goal of the UALR Strategic Plan that cites student success as UALR’s top priority. An objective of that goal states that UALR will strengthen the sense of community among students, and cites a first-time freshman housing requirement and meal plan purchase as a strategy. The policy also cites a state mandate to double the school’s graduation numbers by 2025.
The new policy will require each first-time freshman enrolled in 12 or more course hours to live in UALR’s newly completed West Residence Hall, unless he or she is approved for [an] exemption[s] from the policy. Any students who cannot or do not want to live on campus can be exempt if they are:
- Students who are 21 years of age and older
- Married students
- Students who are parents or legal guardians who have a dependent living in the home
- Veterans of active military duty
- Participants in programs not on main campus
- Transfer students who have attended college since graduating high school
- Individuals who have documented mitigating circumstances.
If proven with the appropriate documentation, the first six exemptions are practically automatic, according to Debra Gentry, executive director of housing. But applications for exemption that cite “documented mitigating circumstances” will be approved on a case-by case-basis by a review board, which Gentry says will likely include faculty and staff from across campus and at least one student.
“We’ve been looking at this issue for a long time,” Gentry said. “Part of it came out of the strategic plan that was sanctioned by the university … and part of what we looked at was policies at other schools,” Gentry said.
But not everyone on campus is supportive of the upcoming student housing requirement. Since the announcement, Engineering Professor and UALR Faculty Senate Member Nickolas Jovanovic has voiced his concerns on FacFocus, UALR’s faculty email listserv. Like many who critique aspects of the policy, Jovanovic seems to focus much of his attention on the lack of exemption for students who live in areas surrounding the university. There has also been a difference in opinion among students, some of whom share Jovanovic’s concerns.
“I think that maybe the school needs money and this is a way of assuring they get it,” said Zachary Rutledge, freshman biology major. “However, if all the freshmen have to live on campus, there is always the risk that it will leave fewer rooms available for upperclassmen … if someone is paying for college on their own they should be able to spend their own money how they choose.”
In response to concerns about whether the capacity of housing can sustain the new policy, Gentry said UALR has plenty of room for the foreseeable future. The university can now house 1,400 students due to the recent completion of West Residence Hall and purchase of University Village (formerly Coleman Place), according to the Student Housing page of the UALR website.
“We’ve been a commuter school for years, but now we’ve got 1,400 beds and that’s a critical mass,” said Interim Provost Sandra Robertson. “We’re able now to do some significant programming for those students, which is designed to help them be successful.”
There are currently 612 freshman students living in student housing, according to student housing data. Of those freshmen, 87 percent (534) are in-state students, and 46 percent (281) list home addresses “within easy commuting distance.”