President Jeffrey Armstrong and top administrators have argued for years that living on campus improves student’s retention rates. 

However, University Housing Director Jo Campbell said data she presented at an Academic Senate meeting Feb. 11 did not prove second-year housing causes greater student retention, or the likelihood for a student to continue until their third year.

“I’m not trying to paint a picture that it is causal. I’m showing a point of data,” Campbell said.

This comes after statistics professor Steve Rein said University Housing’s study was statistically flawed. While the data provided at the meeting showed Cal Poly students who lived on-campus their second year are two percent more likely to stay at Cal Poly until their third year, it did not account for wealth, whether or not the student’s parents graduated from college, or any other variables that could affect a student’s decision.

“We just do not know unless we do the analysis with those other co-variants,” Rein said.

The retention argument was the justification for Cal Poly’s mandatory two-year housing requirement.

Retention rates are the primary argument given by Vice President Keith Humphrey for the policy, according to a 2015 ASI resolution. Humphrey wrote “Students who live on campus perform better academically and are retained at Cal Poly better than those who live off campus,” in a 2014 email to Mustang News. 

Armstrong said grades, campus connectedness and student retention rate are all improved by staying in University Housing in a student’s second year, according to a 2014 Mustang News article.

The Academic Senate said they never approved the decision for President Armstrong to sign the two year housing requirement into policy in 2017. 

“At such time University Housing has as part of its housing portfolio the number of bed spaces needed to accommodate all freshman and sophomore students, all admitted students who enter the university as freshmen will be required to live on campus for two years,” the policy reads

Campbell said University Housing took a deeper dive into three-year retention rates and created an analysis which breaks down retention rates on-campus versus off-campus students by family income and whether or not the student was a first-generation college student. She said she distributed the report to the provost and campus deans, but will not make it public due to privacy concerns. 

Mustang News obtained some data about freshmen from the class of 2020 from University Spokesman Matt Lazier, who previously told Mustang News that the report Campbell described did not exist. 

Housing Director Jo Campbell said the data does not show second-year housing causes retention, despite correlation. Solena Aguilar | Mustang News

Students with annual income under $80,000 actually do better than their peers if they live off campus for the first two years, according to the data. 

In 2015, the ASI Board of Directors opposed the policy, a position that Chair of the Board and political science junior Rob Moore said still stands.

ASI opposes the policy for three primary reasons, according to the 2015 resolution:

• “Those likely to live on campus a second year cannot be directly compared to those that choose to live off-campus.”

• “The presentation concluded that the differences in retention and graduation rates were due to living on campus for the second year. This correlation does not imply causation, and therefore should not be the core of the argument presented.”

• “The differences in retention and graduation rates between the two groups are not necessarily statistically significant.”

“The ASI Board, elected board members who represent students, are very, very opposed to this. We have huge, huge grievances with this,” Moore said at the Academic Senate meeting Feb. 11, citing the increased cost of living on campus and the need for some students to leave campus if they experience trauma. 

“I, on my life, I would have left campus if I would have had to live here a second year,” Moore said. “I experienced a very traumatic event my first year, and I was very close to dropping out otherwise, I almost did. I had the paperwork, but I ended up not because I knew I could move somewhere else away from where that experience happened, with my best friends. And I know so many students with stories like that. Students who were sexually assaulted in the dorms. Students that have been victims of racial profiling. Students who don’t want to interact with UPD or their RAs. I think there are so many students who just don’t feel safe living here, and want to live somewhere else.”

The two-year policy has an exemption program where students with close family, medical or financial hardships, or other miscellaneous reasons for leaving campus could request to live off-campus. But Academic Senate Chair Dustin Stegner said self-reporting a personal, traumatic event to strangers  for the chance of living off-campus may be too much for students to do.

“If a student has an event, or wants to leave, and knows that he or she has to self-report to a committee of individuals on a case-by-case basis and that student leaves [Cal Poly], then shame on Cal Poly for putting a student in that position,” Stegner said.

The Academic Senate never supported the requirement. 

Stegner said they were never asked for comment on the policy by administration. but after the Feb. 11 meeting, senators will likely draft a resolution opposing the policy. 

“There was lots and lots of consultation, but it was weird, the way it was done,” philosophy professor Rachel Fernflores said. “We were never asked to approve the Master Plan. It came to be something we heard in speeches.”

Many senators said the policy would price out students who would otherwise attend Cal Poly.

“Those students who are scrappy students who are trying to make their way to be first-year or first-time degree students are going to be pushed in a system where they are going to leave with debt. And the accessibility of a Cal State system is something we are drifting away from,” chemistry professor and Cal State Fullerton graduate Eric Kantorowski said. “I never could have gone to Cal State if this was the situation.”

Campbell said the availability of on-campus apartments will lower the cost off-campus, making San Luis Obispo more affordable.

City and regional planning professor Amir Hajrasouliha studies retention rates and campus housing in his day-to-day research. At the meeting, he said housing’s biggest priority should be reducing the cost of housing.

“We talk about diversity and inclusion and all those goals, but not providing affordable homes for our students. That should be the priority, not focusing on expanding exemptions,” Hajrasouliha said. “The housing cost here is simply too expensive for our students.”

On-campus housing currently costs $10,000 for an academic year, according to the housing website, and Campbell said costs are going to go up to pay off debt.

“I will not dispute, will housing costs go up every year? Yes, for the foreseeable future,” Campbell said.

Research is inconclusive on the impact of required second-year housing.

The University of Dallas’s 2018 research paper, “The Value of Living and Learning in Residence,” found that living on campus had an inconclusive effect on GPA. It also found that, without controlling for income, freshmen students were more likely to stay enrolled if they choose to live on campus.

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