Washburn is in the preliminary stages of proposing a requirement for incoming freshmen to live on campus. Eric Grospitch, vice president of student life, visited the Faculty Senate meeting to discuss the Live on Requirement Proposal Aug. 20. This would require first time, full-time students to live on campus their first year. These plans were in process before this senate meeting.
“In an ideal world, the institution would have made this transition as Lincoln [Hall] was being built,” Grospitch said.
That was Grospitch’s first year at Washburn and he said that there was some concern that the construction might not be finished in time so the university didn’t want to hurt themselves by changing too much at one time. The timeline was pushed back because of this.
“[At the time] it was, ‘we know it’s important, we know what it means for students to be more successful because of access to services, taking advantage of services, so let’s give it one more year,’” Grospitch said.
Grospitch said that in that time, he was watching the data and understanding that it showed that students were in fact more successful if they lived on campus their first year.
“I tell parents all that time that it’s not because our beds are more comfortable,” Grospitch said. “It’s because they’re here. They’re talking to other students. They’re more likely to take advantage of faculty hours, [joining] different organizations and it’s because they’re not going back and forth from a distance.”
Grospitch said that they looked at other schools in the MIAA conference and saw that Washburn is the only school in the conference that has the living capacity for the students and doesn’t currently have that requirement. He said this also isn’t exclusive to the region or the MIAA.
“It really is the national model,” Grospitch said. “It’s the nation model because of the historical impact of that.”
The university is already seeing the impact from those freshmen who choose to live on campus right now.
“We’ve seen about a 15 percent retention from first to second year and almost 30 percent difference in graduation,” Grospitch said.
The process is in some of its early stages. Grospitch said that they are taking their time so that they can make sure they are doing it right and gather as much information as possible.
“One of the big questions that’s still unanswered for me [is that] national survey data says a commuter is a student who does not live in the residence halls or in Greek housing,” Grospitch said.
Grospitch said that he feels that many students at Washburn who fit that definition wouldn’t consider themselves commuter students.
“I’m trying to get a better sense from colleagues as to what does that really means,” Grospitch said.
Grospitch said that in light of this commuter definition and other factors they are still working out details about what kind of exemptions there would be for students. Currently what is being discussed, and Grospitch emphasized that this is still a discussion, is for students living with their parent or guardian within a 30 mile radius around the campus and other exemptions for students who are married, single parent, active military duty or 21 years or older.
There will also be an appeals process for students who do not fit in one of these categories but still don’t want to live on campus.
According to Grospitch, in the 2017-2018 year 105 freshmen had a home address outside of Shawnee County and did not live on campus.
“What I don’t know is where outside of Shawnee County,” Grospitch said. “Of those 105, my gut says half of them were probably staying at home at least.”
Grospitch said that they’re not sure about the other half, they need to decide what the rationale is for those students. They are planning on doing some outreach to those first time, full time students not living on campus this semester to try and find out some of those reasons.
“That’s the kind of research we’re trying to do before we push anything forward.” Grospitch said.
Moving forward Grospitch is hoping that a proposal will be put before the Washburn Board of Regents by October. This will give the university time to begin talking about the policy, if enacted, for recruitment of students this fall.
The university is also taking this discussion to Washburn Student Government Association so that they can have some feedback from students. Grospitch has already discussed the policy with some of the executive staff of WSGA, such as President Zac Surritt, who, along with Vice President Jim Henry, has been in discussions with Grospitch since mid-summer of this year.
Surritt agrees with Grospitch that this discussion is still in a fairly preliminary stage.
“We are working with what other universities have done and shaping a policy that works best for our campus,” Surritt said.
He also understands that each student is different.
“I like that there are exemptions to this policy currently as each student is different,” Surritt said. “For some, it just wouldn’t make sense to live on campus.”
Surritt has a unique take on the policy as he is someone who transferred into Washburn after attending a different school and who lived off campus while attending that school.
“I was at KU my freshman year and I commuted about 35 to 40 minutes from Meriden to Lawrence,” Surritt said in a Facebook message. “I did so to save money and because I had a fairly nice, stable job in Meriden.”
Surritt sees the benefit of the policy and the positive impact it could have for students.
“[L]iving on campus your first year increases your likelihood to get involved, get better grades and graduate both on time and from Washburn,” Surritt said.
He also thinks his life would have been completely different had a policy like this been in effect at KU.
“I know that if I had lived on campus at KU my freshman year, I probably wouldn’t be [at Washburn] now.”