Study finds many advantages to having housing on college campus

Wendy Gradwohl Wells delivers a report on the study she did for on campus housing at West Shore Community College. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

Wendy Gradwohl Wells delivers a report on the study she did for on campus housing at West Shore Community College. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

SCOTTVILLE — The West Shore Community College Board of Trustees heard the results of a descriptive research study on possible student housing at the college from Wendy Gradwohl Wells.

WSCC director of community relations Thom Hawley said the board and the administration are looking at the possibility of sustaining campus housing.

“The goal of this study was to learn about similar experiences with campus housing,” said Hawley. “Representatives and property managers from 14 two-year public institutions answered survey questions and then participated in follow-up interviews to give more descriptive information. The results were then analyzed for common themes and findings.”

Hawley said Gradwohl Wells is currently an adjunct professor at Wittenberg University teaching online management and leadership courses,” said Hawley. “We are also proud to say she is an adjunct professor at West Shore teaching psychology and business courses.”

Gradwohl Wells said what she put together for the board was a condensed version of the long presentation she put together for the staff.

“The task was to gather information from schools who either have campus housing or schools in various stages of considering campus housing. That included 14 two-year institutions from six states,” she said. “While college owned and operated housing is the most popular structure among the institutions that participated, other colleges have opted for privately owned and managed properties that specialize in student housing.”

Gradwohl Wells said the majority of colleges have within the last 10 years opened campus housing and the average number of beds among the 11 colleges currently with housing is 178.

What her research showed was:

• Most of the institutions indicate fill rates over 80% for the last three fall semesters.

• Colleges that operate their own housing note lower fill rates during the spring semester due to students graduating or not returning after the fall semester.

• About half the colleges report high fill rates during the summer by actively seeking opportunities to fill beds.

• Most colleges fill housing with students who live an hour or more away.

• Only one college has a sizable percentage of international students living in housing. Yet, that number is declining due to U.S. visa approval issues.

• Of the colleges that offer intercollegiate sports, the majority report a high percentage of student-athletes living in campus housing.

• The majority of colleges indicate those living in housing rely on financial aid, are freshmen, and full-time students.

• The most notable benefits of housing are convenience and providing students with a real college experience.

• More than half the colleges believe housing has had a positive impact on enrollment, retention and graduation rate.

• Costs and conduct violations are the two most noted challenges of campus housing.

• The main reason colleges pursued campus housing are lack of available and affordable housing in the area and the students’ desire of a real college experience.

“Overall, the 11 colleges note more advantages than disadvantages to having campus housing,” said Gradwohl Wells. “Most believe it helps in recruitment and provides a competitive edge. Based on these findings, West Shore Community College should be able to sustain campus housing, but the number of beds may need reconsideration given current trends. Additional recommendations are provided should West Shore Community College pursue housing on its campus.”

WSCC board members plan to take up these results and others from another study on housing on their campus that was done by the Scion Group at a study session following their Jan. 20 board meeting.

Ward also delivered to the board his monthly report on the activities of the Michigan Community College Association. Ward and board chair Bruce Smith are the WSCC representatives on the association.

“It has been fairly quiet in Lansing and there was work on the supplemental budget, but there was no funding in there for community colleges,” said Ward. “We did have the MCCA staff looking at overtime rules as proposed new overtimes rules regarding salaried individuals would impact many more of our sister community colleges than West Shore.”

Ward said on the federal level they were waiting for legislation to be signed by the president that the House passed the Futures Act dealing with streamlining and improving the FAFSA that impacts many students' financial aid. FAFSA is one on the main initiatives for the College Access Network and is send as a crucial element in getting students enrolled in colleges. Seeing legislation at the federal level would help with all the work being done across the state with that process.

Another topic Ward touched on is that on the MCCA website is a link to a community college affordability report. He said it addresses the policies of presidential candidates and what they see as the impact and affordability of community colleges at the national level.

“I commonly discuss on campus and in our communities the issues of housing, transportation, food, child care and other social issues that are blocks to student success,” said Ward. “I am glad to see those are being discussed both nationally.”