Michigan State University is upgrading its infrastructure and gender-inclusive housing as it prepares to require second-year students to live on campus starting with the sophomore class in Fall 2022.
The University’s Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) provided this information to the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU), the University’s undergraduate government. The improvements are to be incorporated into MSU’s five-year Long Range Asset Plan.
In December, responding to MSU’s change of housing rules, ASMSU called on the University’s administration to release a timeline of renovations for dorms, reducing costs, expanding dietary options in dining halls, and increasing gender-inclusive housing.
As ELi previously reported, some students and ASMSU representatives voiced concerns that the two-year live-on campus requirement is a “money grab” for the University to make back lost revenue during the pandemic. (The State News recently reported that MSU has taken a huge financial hit on housing since the pandemic began.)
But University administrators have countered that living on campus during sophomore year is in students’ best interest because it correlates with higher graduation rates.
The decision by MSU comes at a time when the student rental housing supply has suddenly greatly increased with the construction of many big, new redevelopment projects in and near downtown East Lansing.
MSU is now acting on some of ASMSU’s requests, but infrastructure improvements will be costly just when MSU’s budget has been hit hard by the pandemic.
According to the presentation by Vennie Gore, MSU Senior Vice President for Residential and Hospitality Services and Auxiliary Enterprises, the asset plan will cost $135.4 million. Most of the funds will be allocated for furniture and equipment, renovations, mechanical upgrades, and architectural improvements.
Chief Communications Officer for RHS Kat Cooper said the main priority for RHS with renovations is to “keep buildings viable and welcoming for students.” Cooper said a main priority for RHS is preserving the North Neighborhood with its older, classic collegiate buildings.
Cooper said that, each year, RHS leadership reviews potential projects and then leadership chooses projects by “advantage” to determine which renovations receive attention first.
With only about four thousand students currently living on campus, RHS has lost millions in revenue, and is deficit-spending to keep employees.
“The pool of money that we would normally use for [renovations] is currently being depleted,” Cooper explained. “So it’s going to require some creative funding strategies over the next few years in order to be able to really do any of this.”
Requiring most students to live on campus for two years, RHS will increase its net revenue by 6% for a typical non-Covid-19 year.
Cooper said that more revenue will allow RHS to get to renovations sooner.
“We’re also going to see more demand for these renovations because there’s going to be more students using the facilities and they’re going to have certain expectations of their environment, and rightly so,” Cooper said.
Exercise facility upgrades are also under consideration.
Many students today expect good access to exercise facilities, something a number of off-campus apartment complexes offer. But compared to other Big Ten universities, MSU’s own exercise facilities are underfunded.
According to one MSU official, the first IM (“intramural”) exercise facility opened in 1917 and the first pool opened in 1957. IM West opened in 1959 and its fitness center opened in 2005. The most recent facility, IM East, opened in 1989.
Cooper said that several renovations occurred in 2017. These included replacing the IM East track, creating a new playing court service at Demonstration Hall, and renovating the IM West turf.
IM facilities fall under the oversight of Student Affairs and Services. Many Big Ten universities tax students for IM facilities, but MSU instead uses a membership strategy to charge only those who use the facilities.
Cooper said MSU underfunds IM facilities in comparison to other Big Ten universities. MSU is exploring possibilities to upgrade facilities and will consult with community members to understand what students will pay for and what they want.
The MSU Board of Trustees authorized a study on improvements to recreational facilities according to Cooper.
“The Rec Sports director and a couple others are in the process of developing a public presentation for the purpose of seeking student and constituent input,” Cooper said. “These town hall format Zoom meetings will take place in late March.”
MSU will also allocate more resources toward gender-inclusive housing.
Cooper said MSU began gender-inclusive housing a decade ago, while Gore told ASMSU about updates to gender-inclusive housing at a General Assembly meeting on Jan. 21, 2021. The implementation process includes making software changes, allocating more beds for gender-inclusive housing, and creating additional staff time for training and for the sign-up process.
Partnering with the Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender Resource Center (LBGTRC) is also part of the plan to create more LGBTQIA+ training for RHS staff at McDonel and Wonders Halls.
Jesse Beal, director of the LBGTRC, said the center is a “student-centered campus resource” that celebrates and empowers LGBTQIA+ members at MSU.
“Through education, engagement, advocacy, and student support, we work to create an inclusive campus culture for people of all genders and sexual identities,” Beal said.
The center works with RHS and holds programs and workshops with the Residential Hall Association, the student government of residential halls. Beal said the center also collaborates with RHS to provide educational opportunities for residential assistants.
For students in the dorms, residential caucuses are offered in each neighborhood to create a space for support and to further education on LGBTQIA+ communities.
Cooper explains that gender-inclusive housing is supported by an ongoing partnership with students.
“Our commitment really is to keep engaging with the community so that we can continue flexing and growing so that their needs are being met and they can have an outstanding Spartan experience,” Cooper said.
RHS has yet to announce who may be exempt from the two-year live-on campus requirement.
On March 4, MSU announced that, for the Fall 2021 semester, 75% of undergraduate classes will have some in-person component. How much on-campus teaching will be happening remains to be seen.