Opening Up Dormitories

Opening Up Dormitories
November 24, 2010/Inside Higher Ed

By David Moltz

This fall, Eastern Michigan University opened its dorms to students from nearby Washtenaw Community College, in order to earn some extra revenue while further encouraging students to transfer and giving them a taste of residential college life.

The institutions are a half mile apart, Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti and Washtenaw in Ann Arbor. The university is also the top transfer destination of students from the community college. But when Eastern Michigan had extra dorm space to spare, the two institutions drew even closer.

“They approached us,” said Linda Blakey, Washtenaw associate vice president of student services, of Eastern Michigan officials. “They had an entire dormitory building that was empty that they were looking to fill. Also, we have some students who are interested in having an on-campus housing experience. But, we’re not interesting in having on-campus housing ourselves. That’s not one of our goals at Washtenaw. So, this now gives those students who are interested a chance to have that opportunity.”

Most community colleges don't have dormitories because most of their students are commuters. Still, some community colleges are going residential as more traditional-age students enroll and expect a fuller campus experience.

The offering of dorm space on Eastern Michigan’s campus was limited to specific Washtenaw students, Blakey added. The college approached students who attended full time, had already earned a certain number of credit hours, and indicated intent to transfer to a four-year institution -- not necessarily Eastern Michigan.

The Washtenaw students pay the same rate, $3,118 per semester, as Eastern Michigan students would for the specific dormitory in which they are located. They must pay Eastern Michigan directly, instead of going through Washtenaw, which makes it difficult for them to use financial aid dollars for housing. Still, Blakey does not think this has been a burden for the eight students who are taking advantage of the option this semester.

“For the families that can afford on-campus housing, they’ll generally go to Eastern Michigan anyway,” Blakey said. “From a cost-saving perspective, if you’re coming to us for the first two years to save, then it doesn’t make sense to spend for on-campus housing. Still, for non-local students, it might work out better for them. I’ve had some of those families say that they just feel more comfortable with their son or daughter in a dorm setting than in an apartment.”

Blakey anticipated that the number of interested students may grow, as the college’s enrollment of traditional-age students eyeing transfer balloons. For now, though, the offering remains small.

Rebecca Figura, Eastern Michigan’s director of housing, is pleased with the initial offering of dorms to Washtenaw students this semester, and she too expects to see more interest in the future. She said that the university could likely accommodate around 40 or so community colleges students next semester, if that many were interested.

“If we can’t fill our halls with Eastern Michigan students, I think it makes sense to do this,” Figura said. “Transfer enrollments are growing, so I think this is a great service and a great opportunity for these kids.”

Figura admitted that she and her colleagues are still determining what student services these community college students may need or want compared with their Eastern Michigan peers. At the moment, the Washtenaw students are not given student identifications cards and, thus, access to buildings like the campus recreation center and the like, partially because their native campus and access to similar services are only a few blocks away.

“We’re still figuring out what steps are next and what else we need to offer,” Figura said. “Ultimately, though, these students are involved in our community. They’re making EMU friends. They’re integrating well into campus life.”

Dorm sharing between four-year institutions and community colleges is not entirely new, but the practice is gaining some currency among institutions that already have close working and transfer relationships like Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw. For example, Oakland University, in Rochester, Mich., opens up its dormitories to students in concurrent enrollment programs with the university and Clair County, Macomb and Oakland Community Colleges.

The dorm-sharing agreement with Eastern Michigan isn’t the only way in which Washtenaw is improving relations with nearby four-year institutions. Blakey also noted that the community college is leasing classroom space on the University of Michigan’s campus, down the street in Ann Arbor, and is now offering a number of course sections there in the evenings.“It’s a win-win,” Blakey said. “They get to lease out their space, which is usually just sitting empty in the evenings, and we get [to expose our students] to a university environment.”