The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Challenges abound in campus housing

Our university is set to expand rapidly in the next few years. There’s still plenty of buzz surrounding the George W. Bush Center, which is set to be completed in a little over a year, but in addition to that, the school is set to open new residence halls in the fall semester of 2014.

These new residence halls are considered by many to be a blessing. Anyone who’s tried reapplying for housing on campus beyond their first year can attest to the fact that space in the residence halls is quite scarce. Since freshmen are guaranteed a spot on campus their freshman year, upperclassmen who hope to stay have a more difficult time securing a spot.

These new residence halls (or “residential commons,” as the school is choosing to refer to them) will seek to remedy that problem by guaranteeing housing for students on campus for their first two years at SMU.

“Guaranteeing housing” is a bit misleading though, because that implies that people will still be able to go off campus their second year if they choose to. They won’t. The school actually plans to extend the requirement for first-years to live on-campus to sophomores as well. SMU has made it clear that they’re trying to adopt a “residential college” style of housing, much akin to schools in the Ivy League.

The school has already had success in implementing more specific communities in some of the residence halls. Virginia-Snider hosts many of the students in the University Honors Program, and Mary Hay and Peyton serve as havens for those in the school’s fine arts programs. Moreover, the Hilltop Scholars Program has found much success in Smith and Perkins. That many students in these communities choose to stay in these halls after their freshman year is a testament to how successful the halls have been in fostering a tight-knit community.

The new residential commons hope to adopt this same approach. Students would live with the same group of people for their first two years at the university in the same hall. In subsequent years, the school even hopes to have homecoming tents for specific halls so that alums can reunite with their old hall-mates.

To me, this idea of community building sounds like a wonderful idea. Oftentimes the residence halls here are viewed as nothing more than a stepping-stone to going off-campus ASAP, and one need only spend a single weekend on-campus to notice that many of the residence halls are generally dead at night. As a Virginia-Snider resident myself, I’ve certainly experienced how helpful being in a smaller academic community can be. It helps new students acclimate themselves to the college environment and form strong friendships early on.

However, I do have my reservations about these new residential commons. Specifically, I wonder how well requiring students to stay on campus for two years is going to work out. While it’s true that one reason many students try to go off campus after their first year is because there’s not always a lot happening on campus to keep them here, there’s another consideration that I feel like the administration is ignoring: money. SMU is already one of the most expensive schools to attend in the country. While it is generous with scholarships and aid for many of its students, people are still feeling the effects of heightened tuition expenses, and the costs are going nowhere but up.

As if the tuition wasn’t expensive enough, room and board constitutes a hefty sum as well. Even students who choose to go off-campus to live in the surrounding University Park area often find that they can get a better rate on an apartment without the additional expenses of a meal plan.

If students are forced to stay on-campus for an extra year, that’s all the more financial burden they’re going to have to bear. And unlike tuition, the school does not subsidize the cost of housing (with the exception of President’s Scholars who receive a Campus Community Award to go along with their scholarship). In economic times as tough as this, is it really viable (or even humane) to ask students to cough up thousands of extra dollars to attend the school?

I’m all for the idea of building better and more tight-knit communities here on campus. But forcing students to stay here for longer might not be the best way to go about doing that. If the school does wish to implement the residential commons system, they really need to take costs into consideration. Perhaps the school could extend the Campus Community Award to other scholarship programs as well. I imagine most students wouldn’t have as many gripes about staying on campus for longer if the school chooses to be the one to shoulder the costs.

Brandon Bub is a sophomore majoring in English and edits The Daily Campus opinion column. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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