Off-campus policy eased for juniors

More students returning to Mercyhurst College means current freshmen and sophomores will be allowed to live off campus when they are juniors.

The decision not to implement the new policy, which required students to live on campus until their senior year, was made at a president’s staff meeting held in early December.

According to Vice President of Residence Life Gerry Tobin, the large freshman class and the high sophomore retention rate would have caused housing congestion for upper classmen by 2012 had the college implemented the policy.

“There were some people that didn’t care, and some people that weren’t happy (with the policy),” Tobin said. “I don’t think everybody was particularly thrilled, but I think this is a good decision for the time being.”

Sophomore Matt Cirell is among the students happy with the decision. “We are no longer children; we are adults,” he said. “If we are expected to take care of ourselves in the real world, we should at least be able to choose our own college living space.”

“This past year we were able to offer a number of triples, and students have responded very positively to that living environment,” Tobin said. “In response to the student satisfaction that that creates, we were looking at the requirement for juniors to live on campus, and if we were to do that, it would add a significant number of students and lead to a little bit of a crowding of our current housing situation.”

With the current mix of triple and quadruple occupancy, the capacity of the upper class area is 1,303 and current occupancy is 1,255, according to Tobin. “What that means is that we have a little bit of wiggle room in terms of moving people around,” Tobin said.

If juniors were required to live on campus in the 2012-13 school year, residence life estimates the capacity would remain at 1,303 but they would need to provide housing for 1,408 students.

This would force the Briggs and Lewis Avenue apartments to revert to quadruple occupancy. “We don’t want to revisit that again if we can help it. Next year we could probably have gotten away with it, but we hadn’t implemented the policy, so it made sense to delay it until we figure out how to expand capacity,” Tobin said.

Expanded capacity could come in the form of a new residence hall, depending on the outcome of a new study. The study, which will likely deliver a preliminary report by the January board meeting, is focused on the needs of upperclassman student housing and the feasibility of making repairs to the worst buildings (especially Highland Square) versus building a new residence hall.

“While we’re engaging in that study and entertaining the propositions that will come from that, we’ve decided to postpone the decision to have juniors live on campus,” Tobin said.

Sophomore Courtney Clair said, “It’s a big step for juniors to be able to live off campus… It’s another way to live on your own, a bigger leap into the real world.”

The administration has not given up on the idea of making all juniors live on campus, but current freshmen and sophomores will not have to worry about the policy.

“I think that it still would be a very good idea for students to live on campus. It’s a safer world and it’s a good opportunity, we just have to have the right environment to be able to do that,” Tobin said.

The new environment created by the addition of Warde Hall has increased freshman satisfaction, and may be a good indication that the retention rate will continue to increase. Approximately 81 percent of the class of 2012 returned this year as sophomores, a six percent increase from the previous year’s class, according to Tobin.

“You’re never going to retain 100 percent, but we would like it to be well into the 80s,” Tobin said.

Mercyhurst has a strategy for increasing retention. The college has “really aggressively looked at students who have not registered on time, (and) instead of just letting them sit out,” Tobin said, the school is looking to assist them, whether through the help of academic counselors, academic support or financial aid.

Another factor Tobin identified was helping student-athletes to prosper academically. He believes there has been a “much better bridge between athletes and coaches and the academic side of the fence” in the past few years.

The key to retention ultimately does not lie with the college, Tobin intimated. “It’s one of those things where you can offer the program and the opportunities, but it’s up to the students in the end to avail themselves,” Tobin said.