Students love to hate the residency requirement

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By Nora Hones

Special to The Beacon

A residency requirement isn’t an uncommon thing at liberal arts colleges, but for the students of MCLA the three-year residency requirements elicits feelings that range from anger, to annoyance, to gratitude. It leaves some wondering what all the fuss is about while others can’t seem to stop voicing their displeasure about it.

There are currently 1,256 full time undergraduate students, with 844 of them living on campus, or 67 percent of undergraduate students. The residency requirement was, in part, an attempt by the school to try to adapt to being like most other small liberal arts colleges whose student population mostly lives on campus, according to Dianne Manning, the director of Residential Programs & Services (RPS).

“The whole ability for people to live and interact in the same place as part of their learning process is really what was underneath why the residency requirement was created,” said Manning.

The residency requirement was implemented after the College became MCLA from North Adams State College in 1996.

Catherine Holbrook, vice president of Student Affairs, agrees that having a residency requirement and wanting students to live and experience life on campus is a big part of being a liberal arts college.

“The most influential factor on a student is their peers,” said Holbrook. She explained how research has shown that students who live on campus versus those who commute are, in general, more satisfied with their college experience, have higher GPA’s, graduate at higher rates, are more engaged with their peers on campus and are better able to work with diverse groups of people. Holbrook said, “The ability to work with people who are different than you, on any number of levels, is enhanced when you live on campus – and that’s a very valuable experience.”

Holbrook also stated that according to a National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) survey, students who live on campus tend to spend more time preparing for their classes, are move involved in activities and community service, and tend to relax and socialize more with their peers, when compared to off campus students.

Manning and Holbrook have similar views on students’ displeasure in the residency requirement. Both explained that every student is informed of the residency requirement when they choose to go to MCLA, and if students don’t like the residency requirement, maybe they shouldn’t have chosen to come here. Such a position makes sense to most students – but doesn’t really change their annoyance about the requirement.

Jacob Davis, an in-between sophomore/junior, transferred to MCLA for Arts Management because it’s one of the only schools that offers this unique major and is a strong program, but he has some conflicting feelings on the residency requirement.

“It’s really dumb,” Davis explained. “It forces people to live on campus when there is really cheap, affordable, off-campus housing.” Jacob said he understands that the school requires residency in part because it needs students to live on campus in order for the school to generate enough income.

Students pay roughly $6,000 per year to live in Berkshire Towers, Hoosac Hall, or the Townhouses with slight fluctuations in price depending on where you live.

Davis feels as if the residency requirement is somewhat “pushed under the rug” when students are applying. He said the school doesn’t seem to talk much about it to incoming students, but he also doesn’t see this as a huge deal. “It’s not like [the student] has to live on campus for four years, you have to do three, and townhouses are an option for on-campus housing, which are as close to being off campus as you can possibly be without actually moving off campus. I feel like people are just annoyed by [the residency requirement] because it’s just a rule they have to follow and no college-aged student likes following rules.”

Andrew Hall, a sophomore who also transferred to MCLA for the Arts Management major, has viewpoints similar to Davis on the residency requirement.

“I think it should be lower, definitely,” said Hall, adding that it should be less than three years because it just gives students a little more flexibility in what they are doing. However, he also sees that the residency requirement has its merits, saying, “I understand why they do it. It preserves the campus community and everything like that, but I feel like maybe having one year would be plenty for that.”

Hall, like Davis, also agrees that students knew about the residency requirement when they enrolled and shouldn’t be too upset by it, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with pushing for it to be dropped, even just a little bit, like down to two years.

Manning recommends that if students want to discuss having the requirement changed, they should go through the proper channels. Students interested in trying to get out of their residency agreement can try to petition for extenuating circumstances. What MCLA considers extenuating circumstances must be things that: “are not under the control of the student, are not reasonably foreseeable at the time of enrollment, personally impact the student, and result in a demonstrated inability to fulfill the MCLA On-Campus Residency Requirement,” according to an MCLA RPS email sent to all students still being held under their residency requirement.

Students and administration don’t all see eye to eye on everything, especially with the residency requirements, but they definitely all share the same viewpoints that if in the future more students are required to live on campus than there is housing, nobody is really in favor of having a three-people-per-room system instituted.

Manning brought up the three-people-per-room possibility when talking about the options in the future if the school expanded and it didn’t want to lower the residency requirement. Currently, MLCA had 947 beds available at maximum capacity. With the 844 current students living on campus that means 89 percent of the housing is filled already with just 1,256 students attending MCLA. If enrollment were to increase substantially, either the residency requirement would have to be reduced or a new residence hall would have to be built.

Building another residence area also is an option, but the likelihood of it being as feasible, according to Holbrook, isn’t as good.

“We would love to build new [residence] halls, but in order to do that, the people who pay for it are the residents, so if we built a new hall, our rents would have to go up significantly higher. We have one of the lowest rents in the State college system and that would have to change. We serve more low income students than any other state university does. Forty – six percent of our students are PELL eligible. So it’s really important for us to keep our costs down,”  Holbrook says,

“I would really hate to see us do that,” Holbrook says of implementing the 3-person-per-room idea, explaining that it’s hard enough for students to adjust to living with one other person in tight quarters, let alone two people.

Both Hall and Davis were appalled by the idea of having to live with two roommates. “Three people per room sounds horrible. Genuinely terrible. I was in a forced triple at Bridgewater State and it was fine because we all ended up being really good friends but it was the tightest quarters,” said Davis.

Hall agrees that triple rooms would be highly undesirable.

“Oh, they can’t be doing that! Two is plenty – that’s for sure. I’m in Hoosac right now, and I couldn’t have any more than the two [of us] in the room. No way,” said Hall.