By Erin Broomell | Copy Editor
In May, the departments of Admissions, Athletics, Business Affairs, Student Affairs and College President Dr. Gregory Aloia came together to solve a good problem: an unforeseen spike in freshmen housing applications. With Lakeside Village Coastal Place Apartments nearly full, options were few, but the best choice was clear.
Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life & Housing Student Affairs Dr. Michael Butcher said the ultimate goal wasn’t to find an easy solution, but the best one for the students.
“We had few options,” Butcher said. “We could have shut down the housing application, which may have caused those students applying to never come to the College because we couldn’t give them housing. Or they may have really struggled to find housing off campus, getting an experience they were not expecting to have come into.
“We decided to look at other models,” Butcher continued, “We really wanted to provide a unique model to expand our expanded occupancy.”
For the past year, expanded occupancy meant converting excess ADA rooms (which are a little larger to accommodate students with disabilities) into double occupancy rooms, which would house an additional fourteen students. Coastal Place Apartments gives an additional 88 beds. With the idea in mind to expand expanded occupancy, college officials set about to find a working model.
“We have had good relationships with hotels in the area,” Butcher said, “So we started looking in the area of Coastal Place Apartments for hotels that could provide us with what we were looking for.”
The College initially acquired rooms at Best Western Plus, Comfort Inn Suites and Sleep Inn, but was eventually able to accommodate all students at Best Western and Comfort Inn.
Dr. Butcher said his staff wanted to make sure students in hotels would be able to have a true campus housing experience.
Students who live in campus housing statistically have better retention rates and higher GPAs. In addition, college resources help them stay better connected and can easily provide them with services they need.
“Behind the scenes a lot of stuff happened: working with the owners and managers and having one-on-one conversations with students and parents about what this means. We included them in the programming concerning safety and security as well as code of conduct. We wanted to provide them with the same experience they would be having at Coastal Place Apartments.” Butcher continued, “The president was very gracious. His office helped put together a program for late night dining at McDonalds. We got all the people involved to help build a sense of community. At the end of the day, we feel we’ve been successful.”
Coordinator of Residence Life and Housing Tiffany Davis said student feedback has confirmed the program’s success. “A lot of the feedback that we have received from students is nothing but positive. Ninety percent of our students and expanded occupancy housing are grateful that we found a bed for them close to campus. Some students in the hotels say it is much quieter there because they're not surrounded by another 300 students.”
A few issues have risen from the unique experience: a need for shuttles to and from campus and working with the hotels on better Wi-Fi access for students. According to Resident Assistant Christain Torelli, the good the program is doing outweighs any drawbacks.
“One of the things we try to do as RA’s is make sure our students can still get the college feel out of it,” Torelli said. “I think we are all looking forward to Mariner Village’s completion, but for right now we’re doing what we can and having a good time with it.”
The College and RA’s have worked to provide as many programs as possible to build community and cultivate an on-campus experience.
“When we have activities, we try to involve the other hotels and housing as well because we want everyone to feel connected in that community,” Torelli continued. “A little earlier in the semester Dr. Umphress, Dr. Butcher, and Dr. Aloia, came out to the McDonald’s over by CPA and we had a bunch of our residents and they bought us all happy meals. We had the place packed out full of students.”
Not everyone was on board at first. Student resident Colt Brockington was worreid about his placement inComfort Suites.
“I had my doubts about it at first. I was skeptical about moving into the hotel, but it hasn’t been bad,” he admitted. “It’s different than living in the dorms. You don’t see the same people every day and the staff there is unbelievably nice.”
The success of the model has largely been attributed to the communication and cooperation of administration, parents and students who helped establish it.
“I can’t thank students enough for their help and their ability to see the bigger picture,” said Butcher.
Despite success and overall satisfaction, college administration and students alike anticipate the completion of Mariner Village in fall of 2016.
“The relief of having Mariner Village completed – we can’t get that finished quick enough. I wished we’d had it in January of this year. Our philosophy is we truly want to be a residential campus,” Butcher said.
It is anticipated that the hotels will be used for the remainder of the semester and, if necessary, until Mariner Village is completed, but the models success indicates it will remain a reliable fallback for the future.