The University of Alaska Fairbanks is rolling out a new rule for freshmen that will require them to live on campus their first year of college.
“Really it’s about a commitment between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and our undergraduate student population to help enhance the student experience and success,” said Holly Beamon, acting director of residence life.
Beamon cited studies indicating students who spent their first year living on campus had higher success rates.
“The truth is part of student success is getting to know people, getting connected and getting plugged in and sometimes, when you don’t have the opportunity to do that, you get isolated,” she said.
Dorm occupancy rates have fluctuated over the past three years, according to data form the residence life at UAF. In Fall 2016 total occupancy was at 87%, compared with the following fall, when it fell to 78%. The university closed Stevens Hall, located off Tanana Loop on lower campus, in 2018, when total occupancy came back up to 80%.
In fall 2016, Moore Hall and Skarland Hall, two of the freshman dormitories, were at 90% and 89% total occupancy respectively. By fall 2017, Moore Hall had fallen to 70%, while Skarland had risen to 94%.
In fall 2018, the year Stevens Hall closed, Moore Hall was at 77% total occupancy and Skarland Hall was 92%.
The decision to require students to live on campus was not made to help with funding amid the ongoing budget cuts to the university, according to Keith Champagne, vice chancellor of student affairs.
“No, when I proposed this I didn’t see it as a way to address a budget situation. I saw it as a way to address an academic success problem and a retention problem,” Champagne said.
Champagne said the new requirement is “a high impact practice” to address these problems and help with recruitment efforts.
The requirement applies to all freshmen under 21, enrolled in nine credits or more. The program is called Education, Growth, Development and Experience, or EDGE, and will also introduce new students to other aspects of dorm life.
As part of the program, residence life will launch new “living and learning communities” in the Moore Hall and Skarland Hall dormitories, including an honors community, a gender diversity community and an engineering community. The groups have been created in collaboration with other campus entities, professors and deans, in order to help students pursue their areas of interest.
The dorms will have peer mentors available to help students coming to campus connect to various resources for student life and tutoring.
The process, including the live on requirement, is aimed at helping students who are new to the university adapt.
There are five listed exceptions to the live on requirement for students, which include the following: those who are married, in a registered domestic partnership or civil union; a parent with custody of a child, or children, or caring for a dependent; those who are living with immediate family or legal guardian within a 40-mile radius of campus; those who can cite extenuating circumstances; and those who are using only eCampus credits.
Students may apply for an exemption based on any of the above criteria. Applications are reviewed by Beamon, the acting associate director of residence life and the residence life operations manager.
Currently, there are no further guidelines on what defines extenuating circumstances.
“If someone has extenuating circumstances, we are evaluating on a case by case basis, and so we want students to communicate that with us,” Beamon said.
One example Beamon gave was that the university would not ask the student to break a lease signed prior to or make an unwise financial decision.
“The whole intent about this is helping people be successful in their first year and not creating adversity,” she said.
However, students who apply for exemption citing that living off campus is a cheaper option may not qualify for exemption, according to Beamon. Neither may students qualify who want to live off campus with other people, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, nor freshmen under 21 who simply want to live off campus alone.
In his discussion with students who previously lived in either dry cabins or off campus their first year, Champagne said that he mostly received feedback from students who wished they had stayed in the dorms instead. First time students, he added, are not always fully prepared for college.
“(The program is) all about academic success and surrounding students with support and holistic well being,” Champagne said.
He said scenarios such as the cost of living on campus affecting a student’s financial situation would be accounted for in the student’s financial aid process when applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This would be handled by the university’s financial aid department.
Beamon explained that residence life has had couples who now will have the ability to live in gender diversity community spaces. The university also has apartment-style housing options, as well as family housing.
As the university has not had a lot of applications for exemption thus far, she said she could not yet say why someone’s application for exemption might be rejected, other than if they did not meet one of the listed exceptions.
Should a student’s application for exemption be denied for any reason, Beamon said they would be able to appeal the decision by responding to an email, which would be sent out by the staff member reviewing their application.
Champagne stressed that his experience in the Lower 48 was that several universities have a similar requirement.
“This is not nothing unique to Alaska,” he said. “That’s why I keep saying it’s a national best practice.”
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7572.