With less than three years before second-year Ohio State students will likely be required to live on campus, the OSU community and campus area landlords are still figuring out what the implications will be.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, when the North Residential District Transformation is scheduled to be completed, the requirement for OSU students to live on campus for two years is set to go into effect.
University officials have said they feel the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program, described by the OSU STEP website as a “continuation of the university’s effort to redefine the student experience … designed to focus on student success and development,” will be beneficial to second-year students. Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp and some property managers, however, have voiced concerns about the upcoming on-campus living requirement.
STEP launched as a pilot program for the 2013-14 school year. One thousand second-year students volunteered for the program and are living in residence halls this year and engaging on a regular basis with faculty to explore opportunities including studying abroad, internships, undergraduate research, community service and leadership opportunities, according to the OSU website. Students who complete the pilot program will be eligible to receive a $2,000 fellowship to use toward educational opportunities.
Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said he expects there to be changes made to STEP based on the feedback OSU receives from students and faculty, but he is happy with its progress thus far.
“We’re happy so far on the smaller scale that we’ve got going with how it’s progressing,” Steinmetz said of the program during an interview with The Lantern Tuesday.
OSU Interim President Joseph Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23, he sees the pilot program an “experiment,” but thinks the program will go “beyond (students’) limitations of just in-class learning.”
As the university prepares for these changes, Alutto said he hopes the focus will be on the student experience more than the $370 million North Residential District Transformation. South Campus underwent renovations to its high rise residence halls as part of a $170.4 million project, which was completed prior to Fall Semester.
“What students are getting from that second-year experience, how they’re integrating the opportunities that will be available to them in terms of study abroad or service learning experiences, how it’s going to be when we involve students more systematically with each other in smaller groups … we have never really been able to do for the general student population,” Alutto said.
Stepp said he is concerned the construction costs of building residence halls will translate to increased housing costs for students required to live on campus, however.
“Living off-campus is cheaper,” Stepp said. “Having sophomores living on for another year, it’s going to be really difficult to make sure that we’re going to make college affordable to students.”
The standard room rates per semester for OSU residence halls range from $2,920-3,750 for the 2013-14 school year. Dining plans, which are required for students who live on campus, range from $1,800-2,550 per semester.
Stepp said USG was not consulted about the requirement prior to its approval and thought there should have been more conversations between the university and students about whether the STEP program is something students would be in favor of.
“I see a lot of advantages to living off-campus for students, but I understand there are students who want to live on-campus as well,” Stepp said. “It’s difficult to me to consider this issue without taking the student opinion and affordability into question.”
Stepp said the lack of communication between USG and university officials prior to the approval of the second-year residency requirement was “highly unusual.”
“The university is very good at talking about these things and giving us a heads-up … looking at things like the transition of parking, the semesters conversion — these major decisions that affected not just students, but faculty, staff and the community — they went through the University Senate process,” Stepp said. “One of the major underlying pieces of (STEP) is faculty and student engagement. It seems to me that we missed an opportunity to get input from faculty, by not having a conversation with them and the University Senate process.”
University Senate gives faculty and students a say in the university’s legislative decisions. The senate is composed of 70 faculty members, 26 Undergraduate Student Government members, 26 administrative personnel, 10 Council of Graduate Students members and five representatives from the Inter-Professional Council.
Michael Gutierrez, a fifth-year in economics, said he lived on campus for two years and feels students benefit from doing so.
“It gives you a good time to get acclimated to living out on your own, but it’s still kind of protective,” Gutierrez said.
Kelsey Whitlatch, a third-year in nursing, said the cost of living on campus for a second year could outweigh its benefits for some students though.
“I understand from the perspective of maybe safety or promoting their second-year experience, but it’s a lot cheaper to move off-campus,” Whitlatch said.
Gutierrez said he thinks the initial resistance to the requirement will decrease once students adjust to the change.
“It’s just kind of one of those things that you just have to deal with, kind of like switching from quarters to semesters,” Gutierrez said.
While the requirement could have consequences for students who have to pay more or simply do not want to live on campus for a second year, it could also have consequences for those who provide off-campus housing.
“Obviously we’re not terribly thrilled about it because it just is taking away from our tenant base,” said Todd Jessup, community manager of the University Village apartment community. “Approximately 10 percent of our residents are sophomores, so it wasn’t great news for us to hear.”
Wayne Garland, property manager of Buckeye Real Estate, also said it is a concern that second-year students will no longer be potential tenants, but said the issue could be offset as university enrollment continues to increase.
If the tenant pool shrinks and the competition among off-campus housing providers increases, Garland said the requirement could come with some positives.
“It’s good, and I think it’s healthy, and it forces people to keep their properties better all the way around,” Garland said of competition among property managers. “The better-located and better-maintained properties are able to be a little flexible with their price point, are going to be able to compete just fine.”
Steinmetz said competition could force off-campus housing to become safer for students.
“As an institution, what we have to do is pressure the responsibility in the landlords in ways that we can,” Steinmetz said. “When the second-year housing is done, there’s an opportunity at that particular point in time, because there will be some students that shift onto campus that were living in other places, the market will take care of some of this.”
Jessup said he does not expect the loss of second-year students in the off-campus housing market to be a major blow to property managers prepared for the change.
“The people that are well-organized and experts in the business will still be able to perform reasonably well,” Jessup said. “I think that the people that aren’t prepared and aren’t in a situation that they realize they need to market better, try whatever they are able to do to be appealing to students, those will be the folks that will suffer the worst.”
Nonetheless, Garland said the requirement is somewhat unfair to both landlords and students.
“If you want to create a better environment overall for the students, I’m all for that,” Garland said. “But to me, it’s somewhat like why are you forcing it, because my studies show that on-campus housing is more expensive than off-campus. By forcing the students, not giving them the choice, I don’t think that’s really fair marketing for either side.”
While the overall competition for off-campus renters may increase as a result of the requirement, OSU kept one competitor out of the market when it agreed to pay more than $12.8 million to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church to withdraw its proposed project to build student housing on West Woodruff Avenue.
OSU is paying the church a one-time payment of $7.5 million, in addition to a $3 million commitment over 25 years with an interest rate of 5 percent.
The agreement also gives OSU the right of first refusal if the church, which has been at its current location for more than 80 years, decides to sell its property, and it permits the university to weigh in on any future projects proposed by the church, OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said.
Lewis said the church’s project was “not consistent with the university’s plans for the North Residential District,” while Steinmetz said the agreement was about giving the university some control over the development of the church’s land.
“When you have a parcel of land like that that’s totally out of your control for development, you’re better off to get some control of that development so you can really plan your future without worrying about what happens there,” Steinmetz said. “The development of the lands and what happens around the university is very, very important for plans that we make not only now, but years and years from now, so that’s the kind of decision that’s made for that long-term future.”
George Glazier, rector of the church, however, said he did not feel the university provided a logical reason for stopping the housing project.
“I’m sure they have some reasoning that makes sense to them,” Glazier said. “At a certain point in time, in 2009-2010, it obviously made sense to them because there was no opposition at all. But the closer we got to actually tearing down one of our buildings and building this, the opposition was clear. So we ended up with an agreement not to do student housing.”
Alutto declined to comment on the agreement during an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23.
Stepp said he was unhappy about the amount of money the university committed to stopping that housing project.
“My friend and I quickly did some calculations and we calculated how much money could be put into endowment for student financial aid and scholarships and it was quite a high number,” Stepp said.
While Glazier said it was “very disappointing” that the church was unable to proceed with the project, he acknowledged that the agreement was a “win-win.”
“Part of the money comes over 25 years and certainly if we violate the agreement, I’m sure the money’s not coming, and we’ll end up having to negotiate that,” Glazier said. “That’s not our plan. The money makes possible some things that I think we’re just beginning to realize.”