Four-year residency: sticking students back in the toothpaste tube?

By Sarah Rich

With three fewer small-group houses on the market for juniors and seniors next year, some students are questioning why they can’t live in off-campus houses.

“I think it’s not the worst idea,” said Lucas Nafziger, a senior, “but the fact that we’re so limited in where we live is frustrating.”

Goshen College hasn’t always had a four-year residency policy. In the early 1980s the number of full-time students increased to 1200, maxing out the on-campus housing. Rather than build more residency halls, the college decided to move seniors off-campus.

Then, in the early 2000s, prospective students began talking about the trend of on-campus apartments, which were popping up at other liberal arts schools around this time. People also began noticing that juniors and seniors were somewhat uninvolved in campus events and leadership. After in-depth conversations with the Board of Directors, Student Life staff, faculty, the Goshen City Council, students and other figures, the college decided to build the senior apartments and enforce a new four-year-residency policy.

Under this policy, eligibility to live off campus moved from a 90-credit minimum requirement to 112 credits. The age requirement shifted from age 22 to age 23. This still allows about 30 percent of seniors to live off campus, while around 70 percent live on campus. Several other Mennonite and regional institutions hold similar policies: Bluffton, Bethel (Kansas), Earlham, Albion, Messiah and Eastern, to name a few.

“Part of the conversation was hope that we would bring juniors and seniors back in positive leadership on campus,” said Bill Born, vice president of Student Life.

“I guess the more upperclass students live on campus, the more you’ll get to know them,” said Betesida Zewde, a sophomore.

Students often don’t want the college to define their residency options, though. Especially after experiencing the freedom of Study-Service Term, many people feel more independent and want to live off campus. “Some even equated it to trying to put toothpaste back in a tube,” said Born. “Once you let students off campus, good luck trying to bring them back.”

David Wiegner, a senior, said, “Although I think four-year residency promotes community, I do believe that if we are to let our students prepare for life after college, living off campus is a good way to experience it.”

Other students object that the requirement to live on campus puts them out several thousand more dollars than if they could live off campus. Born argued, however, that “the cost differentiation is not as big as people think it is.” He cited a study that three or four students did a few years ago. When they tallied up additional costs for utilities, wireless, gas and rent, off-campus costs were more comparable to the all-encompassing cost of on-campus housing. They also took into consideration that off-campus leases are for a year, not nine months, and that students don’t receive financial aid when they live off campus.

Some students feel trapped by the Goshen College community standards. After they are 21, they want the freedom to consume alcohol, but because they are required to live on campus and because they are not allowed to drink on campus, these students feel that their freedom to drink is stifled.

Born argued, however, that it doesn’t really matter where students live. “On campus or off campus, you’re going to get in hot water [for drinking] either way,” he said, “and sometimes the hot water off campus is going to be a much bigger deal.”

The conversation about four-year residency is an ongoing one, but Born said, “At this point, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to change the policy back.”

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Written by Sarah Rich

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