Off-campus housing gains University ties

Students may find themselves living in a four-star apartment within the next few years. This isn’t a new take on resort-style living, however – it’s USF’s grading scale to represent how closely affiliated an off-campus complex is with the University, and a chance to get closer to American Association of Universities (AAU) eligibility.

The University’s strategic five-year plan includes gaining entry into the AAU. In order to join that network, the University would have to be classified as “primarily residential,” meaning that 25 percent of undergraduates – about 10,000 students – must live on campus or in off-campus affiliated housing. The University will boost these numbers by building more residence halls, making partnerships with off-campus housing and rating its relationship with the off-campus sites with a four-star system.

The University is 5,000 to 7,000 beds short, said Tom Kane, dean of housing and residential education. In order to meet the 25 percent target, the University has developed a three-pronged plan.

The University’s first step will be to increase the number of beds on campus. Construction is underway on a 1,000-bed addition to the Magnolia Residence Hall. The renovations will be completed in August 2009. Jennifer Meningall, vice president of Student Affairs, said the University hopes to begin working to add another 1,000 beds as soon as the Magnolia project is finished. The University’s impetus for increasing on-campus housing goes beyond the AAU requirement.

“We believe that when you live on campus, you do better academically,” Meningall said.

She said students who live on campus have higher rates of success than their off-campus counterparts. On-campus freshmen choose majors more quickly, and are more likely to use services and resources such as the Library.

Having so many more students on campus would thus put a strain on resources such as the Library, food service and more, Meningall said.

To address those needs, Meningall said the University will look to increase the amount and accessibility of resources. She mentioned lengthening hours of operation for certain facilities and varying the times activities are offered. One such attempt to meet the increasing demand for services is the planned expansion of the recreation center and construction of another dining facility.

“All of this is a bit like a puzzle – each piece impacts another piece,” Meningall said. “We’ll be examining what we need more of. We’re trying to secure some funding for it – we haven’t done that.”

Off-Campus AffiliatesThe second facet of the University’s plan is to make formal partnerships with apartment complexes near campus. The plan is to begin offering social and educational programming in those complexes similar to that offered in the on-campus residence halls. The purpose of that step is to capture the 12,000 students who live in the same zip code as the Tampa campus but do not live on campus. Meningall refers to those students as “resi-muters” or “walking commuters.”

Choosing complexes with which to affiliate involves determining how accessible they are to the campus, she said.

“The parameter is set by our shuttle bus,” she said.

Kane said the University is planning a model in which off-campus apartment complexes would be rated on a scale of one to four stars. A one-star affiliate would be a complex that allows the University to set up a six-week educational program series on-site. The University would send someone from Student Affairs to the complex once a week to conduct programs on issues such as getting involved at USF, resume writing and more. A graduate assistant (GA) would plan the programs.

“On Monday night we do one complex, Tuesday night another, Wednesday another,” Kane said.

He said the GA would have duties similar to those of a Resident Adviser in the on-campus residence halls, but he or she would be one speaker for the entire complex, rather than just one floor of students.

Kane said a four-star affiliate would have a Resident Adviser move in permanently.

“If we could do this at a few places, we could get 1,500 beds,” he said.

The University has not yet chosen any complexes as affiliates. Kane said he had met with “student-focused complexes” in the area, which he described as having four bedrooms, four baths, living rooms and kitchens. He has met with these complexes five times in the past year, and they have completed surveys detailing how many students they house, the size of their common areas and meeting spaces, and other aspects.

The third part of the University’s plan is to investigate contracted housing – housing built and purchased by a contractor or builder with which USF would establish a partnership. Kane said he had received calls from three contractors this semester looking to strike a deal with the University. The most likely place where the building would be constructed is on Fowler Avenue, south of the University, Kane said.

“There are fields across the Sun Dome by the Museum Of Science and Industry,” Kane said. “There is open land. Those are empty fields – that could be housing.”

Along with special programs, the University would also be responsible for providing security for students in off-campus affiliated housing. Calling it an important priority, Meningall said the University is always concerned about safety. She said planning would have to be done on making the affiliated and/or contracted housing secure for students.

“We would engage University Police (UP). We would engage the Tampa Police Department. We would look at our security firm, at residential life, and we would look at technology and then develop a reasonable and comprehensive plan related to safety,” she said.

Kane said the level of affiliation would determine the type of security provided by the University.

“If it’s a one-star, that’s a different level of expectation than a four-star,” Kane said. “If it’s a four-star, then we’d want UP responding there in addition to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). When you start saying that you’re more closely connected with them, safety would be much more of an issue.”

He said detailed plans had not yet been made as to what type of security would be afforded to two- and three-star affiliates.

Affiliated and contracted housing would come at no cost to the University, Executive Director of the USF Financing Corporation Fell Stubbs said.

“Off-campus (housing) suggests that there would be a different financial relationship with student housing,” he said. “(With) on-campus (housing), the University owns the ground and would tend to want to own the structure. Off campus, we don’t own the ground, and so we would tend to partner or joint-venture with an independent entity.”

He said the University would be providing the traditional on-campus experience but in someone else’s structure.

“We would probably not be interested in direct financial support to an off-campus facility, but we would be interested in providing services to our students,” Stubbs said.

Kane said it would be in the complexes’ best interest to become affiliated with the University.

“In most cases, who’s the No. 1 person who decides where the student lives? The parent. If you can tell the parent that UP would be patrolling, AlliedBarton would be patrolling, residential life staff would be there, but that it’s off campus, the parent would be more willing to place their child there,” he said. “Most complexes think that would draw more people to them. It’s marketing.”

The only spending on the University’s part would be the allocation of funds for the GA position. Kane said he is waiting to find out whether Student Government approved funding for the GA.

Kane, Meningall and Stubbs all emphasize that the University is only in the planning stages of this initiative.

“I don’t think we’re ready for this next year,” Kane said. “What we’re going to explore this fall is a one star. We’re going to continue meeting with the complexes in the fall to try to define what two or three would be.”

The ultimate goal of increasing on-campus residences and off-campus affiliated housing is student success, Kane said.

“What we’re looking at is how we can help our students who live off campus have a better chance of doing well and pass their classes,” he said.