Saturday, April 1, 2023

What implementing college-based housing would mean for MSU

March 15, 2023
Photo by Wendy Guzman | The State News

Home to over 50,000 students and spread across 5,200 acres, Michigan State University possesses one of the nation's largest campuses and housing programs. 

Its 27 undergraduate residence halls are split between five neighborhoods and present students with ample residential options. 

While MSU’s housing program offers several degree-granting residential colleges, residential communities and special interest communities, it has been absent of a full-scale, school-based housing system. 

School-based housing is a system in which students reside with peers in their major program and are in proximity to their physical college.

The question remains, what would implementing school-based housing entail for MSU’s housing program?

MSU Residence Education and Housing Services, or REHS, Associate Director for Communications Bethany Balks said moving to a school-based housing system is not something she’s heard REHS considering, but doesn’t think is impossible. She said enforcing school-based housing would require several different things, including student and faculty approval. 

“You’d have to have every college thinking about supportive programming,” Balks said. “You’d have to have student buy in that they’re okay with not necessarily having so much choice in where they live or who they live with, but that they’re focused on their school or college.”

It’s important to note that many students enter college undecided about their primary and career interests. Data shows students often change their minds about their desired major or college, particularly in the second year, Balks said.

“We have a lot of students that come here in the exploratory major,” Balks said. “They don’t necessarily want to be tied to a specific school or college.”

Accounting for students undecided on their major would not be the only issue facing the enactment of college-based housing. Balks said not all schools or colleges may have the resources or desire to build living-learning communities.

Mason, Abbot, Snyder and Phillips Hall Community Director Zach Grover said the financial implications of living-learning communities require commitment from all parties involved. 

“We have folks that propose living-learning communities or residential colleges and they’re expensive,” Grover said. “You have to have dedicated faculty and dedicated advisors.”

Despite such challenges, Balks said there are observable benefits to college-based housing, such as location and involvement. It would provide students with collaboration over shared academic interests and help develop a sense of belonging.

“It can be really beneficial to have the programming or activities that are related to that academic program and to have them conveniently located very close to where you live,” Balks said. “It helps with involvement, for sure.”

Graphic design freshman Carter Wheeler said he would’ve taken the opportunity to live in college-based housing had it been offered. 

“It’s a great way to meet new people, talk about school, make new friends, it’s a great way to do that,” Wheeler said.

Students in James Madison College, Lyman Briggs College and the Arts and Humanities major can already opt-in to a residential college. Additionally, REHS offers several residential communities, such as the Honors College, Drew Scholars and the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment, or RISE. 

Grover, a former living-learning community member at MSU, said he enjoyed his time in the RISE program and would love to see MSU’s living-learning programs expand and continue receiving support from the university. 

Although living with peers of similar interests can do wonders for a student, Grover said his ability to challenge his world views came from interacting with others outside the RISE program. 

“Meeting so many folks from different majors can be beneficial to your experience and that global mindset that MSU promotes,” Grover said.

REHS also offers special-interest communities, including the Detroit M.A.D.E Scholars Program, College of Music, MSU Army ROTC and the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP.

Many of MSU’s special-interest communities, such as Detroit M.A.D.E, CAMP and the Collegiate Recovery Community, are not college-based. Some are supported by one or multiple colleges, like the RISE community.

Balks said a full-scale college-based housing system would impact these established special-interest communities and cross-college collaborations.

“It’d be harder to have some of those interest-area living-learning communities if everything was college-based,” Balks said.

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