Michigan State University’s decision to require most sophomores to live on-campus has stirred controversy on and off campus. So what led up to the decision to this policy, and how are student leaders and students reacting?
Why and how was the policy reinstated?
On Dec. 1, 2020, Residential and Hospitality Services Communications Director Kat Cooper announced MSU will reinstate its requirement for most students to live-on campus for their first two years. The policy will apply to the incoming fall class of 2021 and had been waived since the 1980s.
The reinstatement was recommended by a committee to Vennie Gore, MSU Senior Vice President for Auxiliary Enterprises.
The committee reviewed data from Associate Provost Mark Largent which suggests that living on campus for two years correlates with higher graduation rates.
According to the study, among sophomores in the entering classes between 2010 and 2014 who lived on campus, graduation rates increased by 2.4 percent in a six-year period and there were significant gains in graduation rates for minority students.
Cooper said the policy is “not an uncommon requirement,” explaining that it was in the works for seven years. Cooper also said that around 50 percent of sophomores live on campus and that over-capacity is not a concern.
How have ASMSU representatives responded?
The ASMSU General Assembly passed bill 57-55 on Dec. 18, 2020, to call on the University to reassess its decision to reinstate the live-on requirement, which included a corresponding press release. ASMSU representatives Aaron Iturralde and Jordan Kovach authored the bill.
Iturralde, a sophomore studying education and also enrolled in James Madison College, said that he is concerned that the University will struggle to implement the policy in one semester. He believes it would have been beneficial to announce the policy several years in advance to prepare and that the period of the pandemic is not ideal for the decision on implementation.
“The biggest concern I have right now is that there’s a lot of things you have to do and one semester is not going to fulfill that,” Iturralde said.
Kovach, also a sophomore studying education and enrolled in James Madison College, is most concerned about the financial implications.
Kovach said she hopes MSU establishes a committee for financial difficulty separate from FAFSA guidelines. Kovach said she wants to know more about the study, specifically if lower resource students who benefited from living on campus received financial assistance.
“But it kind of feels like a money grab, it’s in one semester,” Kovach said. “If it was planned out and they listened to us and they actually cared about what we had to say and how to implement this, then I would be all for this.”
Kovach also called for a mental health exemption. The current exemptions per Cooper’s press release waived the requirement for married students, those with children, veterans, or those whose families live nearby. Exemptions for students living in fraternity and sorority houses as well as co-ops are being debated.
ASMSU President Abii-Tah Bih met with Provost Teresa Woodruff and Largent after the policy was announced.
Bih said that, for both Woodruff and Largent, one of the arguments for reinstating the policy is that they believe living off campus is not cheaper than living on campus because of the resources gained via on-campus life.
Bih said she mentioned that cafeterias do not accommodate all students, such as Muslim students who follow Halal diets. Bih also explained that thermostat control and air-conditioning are important for students but cannot always be granted in the residence halls.
“I think administration believes that on campus has provided everything for every student, but there’s too many variables that I don’t think they can cover for the number of students here,” Bih said.
Both Iturralde and Kovach authored a press release that was passed by the ASMSU General Assembly that calls for MSU to reduce the price of on-campus housing, provide a timeline of renovations for residence halls, and take other actions to make campus living more accommodating to students’ needs.
How are MSU students reacting to the policy?
Sky Stillwell is a second-year student studying public policy who lived in Snyder Hall her first year and now lives in a co-op. Stillwell said there were positives and negatives to dorm life, but she prefers living in a co-op, which may be exempt from the policy.
Stillwell said that it was beneficial to be on campus since she was close to her on campus job and dining hall. She said she had “some unpleasant experiences” that made her feel unsafe, so she would have been upset if required to return to campus.
Matthew Sturt is also a second-year student studying public policy. He is living off-campus in a fraternity house and lived in McDonnell Hall his first year.
Alike Stillwell, he preferred to live off campus in order to live in his fraternity house. He is also concerned about the economic impact off-campus and cost to living on campus.
Sophia Lada, a junior studying journalism and political science, lived in a residence hall for a second year because of the uncertainty of living on her own. Lada said that her experience was a “net-positive experience,” and although she is unsure if being on campus benefited her academically, she took advantage of resources such as easy access to the library.
She believes the one-year requirement is very beneficial to students, but cautioned against enforcing the two-year requirement.
The reinstatement policy will require transfer students to live on campus for their first year at MSU.
Connor Smithee was a transfer student and is now a senior studying journalism. Smithee lived in a residence hall for a year and said he could have saved money if he had found an apartment.
Smithee is against the reinstatement for transfer students, although many transfer students do live in the dorms for one year.
“I already had the dorm experience from my old college, and I understood the ‘ins and outs’ of college already,” Smithee said. “Making me or any other adult live in a dorm is not going to help us succeed academically. I think it’s really just a grab for more money.”
In response to cost concerns, Cooper said that the reinstatement would only provide RHS with a six percent revenue increase and that “it’s not a hasty decision based on the current crisis.”
Cooper noted that students can apply for the Spartan Advantage program and live in Williams or Owen Hall where they can opt out of a meal plan.
ASMSU will hold its first general assembly meeting of the semester on Thursday, Jan. 21, starting at 7 p.m., with both Woodruff and Largent in attendance to answer questions about the policy. The meeting will be held via Zoom through this link for members of the public that want to watch. The password is: asmsu.
[Disclaimer: Jack Timothy Harrison is a voting delegate of the ASMSU General Assembly.
This article was updated at 2:50 on Jan. 20, 2021 to include more information about how to attend the ASMSU meeting.]
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