Editors’ note: Over the next few weeks, The Mac Weekly will begin analyzing various aspects of the draft of Macalester’s Strategic Plan in greater detail. This week, we will explore the proposed expansion of on-campus housing as well as the Plan’s focus on entrepreneurship. Look for more topics to be discused in-depth in upcoming issues.
Those who have been perusing the Strategic Plan have probably noticed that one of the tactics listed under the goal of “build a sustainable financial model that will enhance the ability of the college to fulfill its mission” is to develop more on-campus housing options, which would take place along with implementing a three-year residency requirement.
While many students found this to be a shock, “the college has actually been talking about a third-year housing requirement for about five years,” according to Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre. Now that it has been added to the Strategic Plan, this possible requirement is being examined more seriously not only by administrators, but by students as well.
A number of students are upset about this proposal. Some think that there wouldn’t be enough time to adjust to independent living if they needed to be on campus for three years.
“Now that I’m absurdly busy with my capstone and job searches and all of that, I’m glad I’m not trying to figure out how to live on my own and pay bills and clean a bathroom and fix a dryer for the first time, which would have been the case if I had to live in some of the on-campus housing,” said Miranda Adams ’15, who currently lives off-campus.
Others aren’t very happy about the limitation of their choices. “I think it’s important that students have choices and would not have appreciated it if this choice hadn’t been there my junior year,” said Judith Wodzak ’15. Adams agreed, saying that “I think it’s great to be able to choose what works for you.”
However, some students see a third-year housing requirement as a positive change.
“Having all juniors on-campus would reinforce the feeling of community that Macalester already has,” Christian Smith ’15 said. “I absolutely love the idea of a third-year residency requirement.”
There are also students who are concerned about the financial aspect of living on campus for another year. “It costs too much,” Jennifer Suever ’16 said of on-campus housing. “I moved off-campus because I’m saving a substantial amount of money by staying off-campus and by making my own food.”
Others echoed the same thoughts. “I probably pay about two-thirds of what on-campus students pay for room, and one-fifth of what students pay for board, if that, so I’ve been able to save a lot of money and reduce the number of loans I have to take out to pay for school,” said Sam Burlager ’15, who is currently living off-campus.
Smith acknowledges that financial issues are a concern, but says that “it is important to keep in mind that, in practice, a three-year residency requirement would not exclude anyone from attending Macalester, since clearly each junior was able to afford all fees for their first two years.”
“While I am sympathetic to the people that would need to pay more money under the new policy, I am of the opinion that the benefits to the student body at large of having a three-year residency requirement outweigh the increased fees that many juniors would need to pay,” Smith said.
The financial aspect of this plan is definitely in the foreground of many people’s minds.
“It’s unfortunate that the only place that [the third-year housing requirement] is even mentioned is in the financial piece of [the Strategic Plan],” Hamre said. “It is true, it’s one of the few ways that we can have buildings paid for through revenue, because students need to pay to live there …. but really the [financial gain] is a bonus.”
According to Hamre, the idea for an on-campus requirement for juniors came about a few years ago, during a focus group done with first-semester seniors. When asked for a few words that described their junior year, according to Hamre, “Undoubtedly, within the first three was lonely… [It became] clear that junior year is not the experience it could be for our juniors.”
While in reality, not even half of the junior class is abroad in a given semester, “There was this concept that juniors were out there all by themselves, they weren’t involved in the community, [and] all their friends were gone,” Hamre said.
Some current upperclassmen echo this sentiment. Burlager said that while she does enjoy living off-campus, “I do feel like I’m less a part of the Macalester community. I miss running into people in Café Mac at meals, or seeing people in the floor lounges.”
Smith agreed, saying “a hard part of being a junior or senior has been watching my friends trickle off campus and consequently seeing them far less. [When students move off-campus] each person is less connected to the other 1,999 students here than they could have been.”
Ideas like this got the ball rolling when it came to talking about a three-year housing requirement. “The other piece is that what we’re missing without having a lot of juniors live on campus is the fact that underclassmen don’t really have the chance to [model themselves after upperclassmen] and to see what happens when you really get into your major as a junior and you really become a scholar,” Hamre said. “And so there were lots of reasons we think that it would really help the college and help other students if juniors were to remain in the community.”
New housing options would have to be made available, as the college is currently about 120 beds short of being able to implement a housing requirement for juniors.
At this time, there are no solid visions of what this new housing would look like, although the administration has been tossing around some ideas.
“The things that we know about the housing that we want to build involve kitchens, [and] involve living-learning units in a sense. Just imagine there were 16 singles, and there were maybe 2 kitchens [that were] shared and then living rooms. So it really felt like a community, but it was bigger than just four people,” Hamre said. “I’m not envisioning we build another Dupre for juniors.”
Students seem to agree that this future housing should involve elements of living in an off-campus residence. “If Macalester does implement this third year living requirement, they should provide more living options like Grand Cambridge Apartments where you have the benefits of off-campus living [like] cooking for yourself and more independence, with some of the benefits—closer to school and a more developed Macalester community of living on campus,” Burlager said.
Adams concurred, saying that “there are certain things I love about living off-campus that I think would need to be replicated: everyone could have their own room, a full kitchen, a dining room table, and there shouldn’t be a ton of people sharing bathrooms or laundry machines.”
There are some students who worry about new housing being distributed unequally if a third-year housing requirement were implemented. Adams expressed that it wouldn’t be fair if the more desirable housing options were “available only to a couple people who happen to have good room draw numbers while all the other juniors who are then required to live somewhere on campus end up somewhere that keeps them from becoming more independent or finding and creating a more comfortable space for themselves.”
For two reasons, it is almost certain that these changes will not affect anyone currently living on campus. “One, we have to come up with the funding, and two, we need to start telling entering classes before they make their decision about Macalester that this is a probability that is going to happen in the next few years so there are no surprises after someone has made the decision to come,” Hamre said.
Students still have time to leave feedback on the Strategic Plan draft, and Hamre encourages anyone who has specific concerns or questions to contact her to discuss the issue.