Off-Campus Housing Policy Concerns Student Body; Administration Responds

By Allyson Noenickx

This fall, 206 rising seniors were approved to live off-campus for the 2017-2018 academic year. This year marked the first time that the application process for living off campus was online, which streamlined the process significantly. In wake of the recent decisions, Student Government Association (SGA) has formed a committee to voice their concerns on the process and its transparency.

In order to apply for approval to live off-campus, students must complete an off-campus living application and parent-consent form. Prior to this year, these forms had to be completed by hand, a process which was slowed significantly by mailing papers to parents at home and roommates abroad. According to the College’s off-campus living policy, “Approval to live off campus is determined in consideration of each student’s class year, their conduct history, as well as the order in which applications are received. Rising senior students in good disciplinary standing, and who fully complete all required materials well in advance of the deadline, will have the best chance of receiving approval.” Additionally, the College retains the right to limit the number of students who receive approval.

“We got thirty applications in the first twenty-four hours. Prior years it might have taken four weeks to get that many,” said Dean Edwin Coolbaugh, assistant dean of students and director of residence life and housing. This year’s application was closed sooner than anticipated because of the volume of applications received so early, thanks to the new online process. “We had no way of predicting how efficient the process would be. Those who applied during the first two, two and a half weeks were approved,” added Dean Coolbaugh. The application was officially closed on Nov. 4 instead of the originally scheduled deadline, Nov. 22, due to the size of the waitlist. The timeline for applying will likely be shortened next year to avoid giving students the impression that they have longer.

As stated in their policy, the office retains the right to limit the number of students who live off-campus, and those who submit their applications later are placed on the waitlist. In the past five years, since the current policy’s inception, the College has approved an average of 216 students per year. Recently, some students have voiced their concerns over the College’s ability to cap the number of approved students and how this number is calculated. In her position paper on behalf of the College of the Holy Cross Senate, Clare Connolly ’18, senator for the class of 2018, argued, “Preventing responsible students from living off campus and forcing them to reside in dormitories in subpar conditions for the sake of making a profit is against Jesuit values and should not be tolerated.”

Dean Coolbaugh elaborated on how this cap is calculated each year. “A lot of little data points are put together. The size of the senior class; the size of the junior class; the number of people going to study abroad. Another number is that we are a residential campus, so it’s important for us to maintain that residential standing, which means above 90 percent of our students should be living on campus. If we fall below that we could lose our status as a residential campus,” said Dean Coolbaugh.

According to Dean Paul Irish, associate dean of students and director of student conduct and community standards, “The policy hasn’t changed. That policy was created in the spring of 2011.” It also coincided with the completion of Figge Hall. “As we added senior beds on campus we needed to ensure that they were going to be full, as we were making a big investment,” said Dean Irish. Furthermore, Dean Irish explained that there were troubles with neighborhood relations at the time. “In the fall of 2010, the relationship in the neighborhood with the city and the College was pretty much at an all-time low. There was a lot of tension about how badly students were behaving in the neighborhood. There were arrests; there were numerous code violations with the landlords––landlords engaging in somewhat deceptive practices, really taking advantage of our students.” With the new policy and cap on the number of students living off campus the College intended to improve student housing, landlord practices, and monitor and vet the number of students living off campus.”

“At the time when the policy was created I think the student body understood why it was happening and it made sense, but that was six years ago,” explained Dean Coolbaugh. “Since then we’ve had almost two generations of students come pass. They don’t know what that history is, so it makes sense they’re wondering why we changed something when in reality the policy hasn’t changed at all. We just streamlined it by putting it online,” added Dean Coolbaugh.

Looking ahead to next year, the Office of Residence Life and Housing will be seeking input on how to further improve the process. They met with SGA this fall and anticipate another meeting in the coming weeks. “We’re looking for feedback,” said Ryan Grant, associate director of residence life and housing. “We’ve heard some feedback from SGA that they would like to have a process that isn’t solely focused on when you turn your application in. So we might have more of a lottery-type system which includes when you get your application in, but also we may be weighing more heavily your class year and your student conduct. I know they want us to be more transparent, so I think the question for us is: with all the five or six emails that have gone out to the class, our website, and our meetings, what other things should we do so it’s seen as more transparent? We want to make sure the information is out there,” said Grant.

In an effort toward greater transparency, the office of Residence Life and Housing will be reaching out to underclassmen. “We will be meeting with first- and second-year students next semester so that they’re not signing pre-leases,” said Dean Coolbaugh. “The reality is, if they sign pre-leases they have given away a lot of their leverage. Whereas if they don’t sign a pre-lease, they get approved, and then they start looking for landlords they have the ability to pit one landlord against another. In the process right now with this artificial demand that really isn’t there, landlords are basically able to pit students against each other as opposed to having our students pit landlords against each other. So, there is a financial advantage for students not to sign a pre-lease. There are many more apartments in the neighborhood than we would ever have students living off campus,” added Dean Coolbaugh.

Students continue to voice their concerns over the policy. An online petition created by “concerned members of the Holy Cross student body” has gained over 450 signatures. According to the petition, “This petition represents the many voices of Holy Cross students who have been disadvantaged by and wish to oppose the College’s decision to limit access to off-campus living.” Additionally, SGA held a town hall to hear key administrators explain the annual tuition increase, the financial aid process, funding for capital projects, among other topics on Dec. 7.

 

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