Future Housing Policy Only Looks Forward

Tue, 2017/04/25

A controversial new policy requiring incoming students to live on campus for two years has been decided by IIT’s administration.

Freshmen coming to school starting this fall will be required to live on campus for at least two consecutive years, unless they commute from their family’s home within a 50-mile radius, according to the new Room and Board Contract Terms. IIT’s administration, in trying to get future students to buy in to campus life, came out with the policy without first getting current students’ opinions.

“The one thing administration seems to be forgetting is that students are at the bottom line, and are being affected,” says Leo Sukkar, former President of the Student Government Association (SGA) and a Resident Advisor on IIT’s campus.

The forum Sukkar speaks of was hosted by SGA on March 8, with IIT President Alan Cramb and Provost Frances Bronet inviting students to freely ask questions and voice concerns in an open space.

One student accused the administration of prioritizing “being a business geared toward future students” and not considering the needs of current students. The student conveyed their suspicion of financial motives behind the new housing policy by citing IIT’s rising tuition and room and board costs over the last several years in connection with the Institute’s plan to renovate older buildings and construct newer ones.

“IIT is not a business,” emphatically declared Cramb. He continued by saying that planning for the future is “the right thing for everyone,” so that the student's experience only improves as the quality of the Institute’s resources improves.

While some students see it as a negative trait, Sukkar suggests that Cramb “runs IIT like a business… he needs to make sure the budget is healthy and… [plan] for the future.”

To make sure there are enough residence halls available for the increased proportion of students living on-campus due to the new policy, Bailey and Cunningham, two currently-out-of-commission dorms are planned to open by August of 2018 after renovation, according to Jena Henson, director of the Residence and Greek Life (RGL) office.

At the forum, Sukkar stated that one of the biggest challenges in decisions affecting the Institute is highlighting student input. And since the students weren’t consulted in this instance, he reasoned that this kind of executive decision “undermines student organizations like SGA and RHA.” Sukkar finished by asking, “What do you think the university can do better to seek student input? And how can student organizations bring their ideas to the university?”

“We do need to collaborate and communicate,” Bronet admitted. She offered that the purpose of requiring students to stay on campus is to create energy around the campus community. She also said that the success of university students often correlates with their “experience of community.”

“This decision doesn’t actually affect anyone in this room right now,” replied Cramb.

Henson, too, mentions that research shows living on campus produces a higher academic success rate than living off-campus or commuting. In her words, since “the coursework is very challenging… it’s economical for the Institute because the students do well” due to being able to focus on school rather than on other things like cooking or the crime rate of their neighborhood. And so, she continues, the proportion of students who graduate tends to increase. Henson also called the new policy “not a big deal,” since requiring students to live on-campus two or even more years is “very much standard across the board.”

When asked how he first heard of the new housing policy, Sukkar reported that his residence supervisor told him about the decision in a meeting, after it had already been made. “My initial reaction was… ‘That doesn’t help students here.’” Sukkar continues, emphasizing the need for “making sure the students we have now are taken care of before we think about the future.”

“It’s a thousand dollars a month to live on campus,” says Andrew Hessler-Loch, a senior whom this policy won’t affect. But, he adds, “it still makes me mad.”

The average cost of campus housing for the 2017-18 academic year is projected to be higher by two to three percent than the current year’s, which is between $6,150 and $8,320, according to Henson. The average price of a meal plan, which is mandatory for undergraduates residing in IIT housing, is currently $2,762 per semester. Henson expects this figure to increase for next year along with housing, but is not yet sure by how much.

“I definitely see both sides of the story,” says Sukkar. About the administration’s decision-making process, “the biggest piece missing is communicating that to the students.”

“The channel’s already there,” he continues, citing the President’s Student Advisory Council and forums like the one held on March 8 as ways for the administration to seek feedback from students on issues affecting the life of the Institute and its students. “I think they just need to be more conscious of it.”