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Calvin considers three-year on-campus residency requirement

Photo courtesy calvin.edu.
Photo courtesy calvin.edu.

Calvin’s new strategic plan could include consideration of a three-year on-campus residency requirement, although the requirement would not take effect for several years, Vice President of Student Life Shirley Hoogstra said on Tuesday.

Hoogstra explained that the idea stems mostly from a need for more on-campus housing, a desire to build community among upperclassmen and a desire to underline on-campus residency as a distinctive Calvin feature.

“We have more demand for on-campus housing than we have room,” Hoogstra said. “That’s what triggers this … And a residential college is a particular distinctive in a world now pressured for online education, and we want to highlight our distinctives.”

Calvin’s percentage of students living off campus is much higher than peer and Ivy League institutions comparable to Calvin based on undergraduate population and freshman retention rate, according to Hoogstra.

“There is some question about whether retention would be improved by a longer residency because other elite schools with longer residencies have higher retention,” Hoogstra said.

John Witte, dean of residence life, also commented on the positive impact that a three-year on-campus housing requirement could have.

“It’s pretty compelling that when you have a three-year residency requirement it changes the sense of on-campus community,” Witte said. “And it creates things that happen between first- and second-year students and upperclassmen that aren’t happening right now.”

But both Hoogstra and Witte acknowledge the positive impact that off-campus housing can have as well.

“We have also developed a campus culture that involves living on campus and living off campus that some people have grown very fond of, and that’s important also,” Witte said. “That’s the question. We know it changes things; would that change be beneficial?”

Junior resident assistant Christina Pickett is hesitant about the three-year requirement and the loss of independence for students that could result.

“I think students are hesitant to live off campus,” Pickett said, “but once they do, they realize that’s where they want to be. I don’t know if it would be beneficial because students have to see how the real world works and get out of the Calvin bubble and grow in independence.”

Hoogstra explained that Calvin’s two-year residency requirement grew out of Calvin’s history of a local population, i.e. students from Grand Rapids attending Calvin while living at home.

“But now,” Hoogstra said, “Calvin is a regional, national and increasingly international college, so the strategic plan is thinking about the future, not just being wed to the way we’ve always done things.”

Hoogstra explained that the strategic plan, which will not be finalized until later this academic year and is still in its draft phase, includes various categories that could be relevant to the next five years at Calvin.

Witte said that if Calvin were to consider further on-campus living requirements, the college would face more questions regarding space and may consider building new living facilities.

Hoogstra also stressed that the requirement would include a lot of flexibility and provide more options for varying personalities and needs.

“The overarching goal is variety that fits students’ needs in the future,” Hoogstra said.

Witte echoed Hoogstra’s emphasis on flexibility.

“If we did [implement a three-year on-campus residency requirement], it would probably be with lots of ability to get exceptions,” Witte said.

Freshman Donavan Silva sees the value in living both on campus and off campus during college, and he said if it were affordable, it could be a great idea.

“I think there’s a lot of growing up and responsibility to be learned by living off campus,” Silva said. “But then again there are some students who are not ready for that, so this could work to their interest. I think it could be awesome.”

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