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UNM to consider plan to require freshmen to live in dorms

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Regents with the University of New Mexico will consider a plan to require several hundred more freshmen to live in dorms, a move that supporters say will help them stay in school, but one that could significantly increase their cost of attending UNM.

A regent’s finance committee is set to consider the plan at a Monday meeting. Administrators say students who live on campus do better academically in the long run.

“This is another effort to enhance student success at UNM,” President Bob Frank said in a statement. “There is almost universal agreement among college and university administrators nationwide regarding the benefits of living on campus.”

The average cost of room and board at UNM runs about $9,500 annually. Tuition runs about $7,000 for in-state students.

University administrators anticipate that an additional 350 students not already living on campus would be required to live in university housing in addition to the roughly 3,800 current campus residents, based on data from 2015. University housing has room for about 475 additional students, so administrators say there’s room for growth.

If approved by the finance committee, the measure moves on to the full board of regents. They’re scheduled to meet later this month.

University administrators say living on campus has multiple benefits, such as increased safety and academic performance. Of the 2014 freshmen, 85 percent of students living on campus came back for their sophomore year, according to data in a report to be presented to regents.

In contrast, only 75 percent of freshmen who lived off-campus returned for their second year. UNM’s undergraduate enrollment is about 20,000.

And the six-year graduation rate for students who started in 2009 is 52 percent for those in university housing, compared with 45 percent for those who started their collegiate career elsewhere.

The proposal offers exemptions. Students who live with a parent, guardian or family member within 30 miles of the university would not be required to live in a dorm, nor would students for whom dorm living would be an “undue hardship.” The report does not define financial hardship.

Others who would be exempt are married students, those with a medical or accessibility circumstance or those older than 20.

New Mexico State University in Las Cruces adopted a similar measure, also set to start in fall 2017. The two New Mexico schools join many schools nationally, both public and private, that require incoming freshmen students to live on campus.

The university anticipates some pushback from students who may not want to live on campus. About a third of the 350 students subject to the requirement said they would choose to attend a different university if UNM required them to live on campus, according to the administrative report on the proposal.

“The number is meaningful and substantial, but the fact that it is not greater than predictions should restrict it from being a disqualifier of considering the requirement,” the report read. “Also, the increased retention projected for the population living on campus makes up for possible enrollment loss in the short term.” The president of the undergraduate student government, Kyle Biederwolf, said he couldn’t say if he would support the plan.

“I have not been able to reach out to the amount of students I would like before standing behind it or not,” he said. “In the future, we plan on holding an input forum for students to learn more information about the requirement and hear their opinions.”

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