Mandatory on-campus sophomore housing has remained a popular topic of debate despite ambiguity from administrators about whether such a policy is under discussion.
For the duration of Spring 2015, Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey — with the help of other administrators — will collect feedback from Cal Poly groups about making improvements to University Housing. Humphrey said this is an attempt to make living on campus more accessible and desirable.
At the end of the quarter, Humphrey will present the information gathered to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Their eventual goal is to house all freshmen and sophomores on Cal Poly’s campus.
“Right now the process is just collect feedback about how students feel about having more housing on campus and what the experience should be like and to share that with the president,” Humphrey said. “I don’t know if the president has any timeline in mind to make any shift in policy.”
At an Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors meeting on April 1, Humphrey gave a PowerPoint presentation arguing the benefits of sophomore on-campus housing. The presentation focused on graduation and junior retention rates, both of which are reportedly higher among students who live on campus during their sophomore years.
Humphrey hit on three major points in support of living on campus during sophomore year: better academic outcomes, higher campus engagement and higher engagement with Learn By Doing.
“When you don’t go away from this place, you’re able to more deeply engage with professors, fellow students, the academic enterprise and experience,” he said. “I hear from many students, ‘I go home and I just don’t come back.’ That’s not necessarily the experience the president wants.”
Following Humphrey’s presentation, board members voiced their responses to his argument. They interpreted his presentation as arguing for mandatory on-campus sophomore housing, and all but one dissented.
Board of Directors Vice Chair and software engineering junior Myra Lukens criticized Humphrey’s presentation style, saying it was misleading.
She said that while Humphrey verbally expressed the option of mandatory sophomore housing during his presentation, the PowerPoint never did — it simply presented data.
“The PowerPoint was honestly kind of deceptive and not transparent because nowhere in the PowerPoint did it explicitly say ‘mandatory second-year housing,’” Lukens said. “And I think board members had a huge issue with that.”
Lukens said she was concerned that students who saw the PowerPoint, which is public record, might not be fully informed of its purpose.
“The board members are actively looking forward to being part of the consultation process, as are various other organizations that Dr. Humphrey said he’ll be consulting with this PowerPoint,” Lukens said. “However, we can’t do that if the information our constituents, our students, are receiving is inaccurate. Looking at the PowerPoint at face value, never is it clear that he’s forming an argument for mandatory second-year housing. It’s all verbal. Personally, I have a problem with that.”
Humphrey said the presentation was simply a method of collecting feedback on how to make on-campus housing more desirable to students, stating “nobody ever said ‘mandatory second-year housing.’”
But while administration’s goal isn’t necessarily to require housing, such a mandate is still an option.
“We’re looking at what it would be like to create more students living on campus,” Humphrey said. “Could there be a policy someday? Maybe. That is within the realm of possibility.”
Even so, any policy change would take place far in the future.
“We’re many years away,” he said. “But we need to start having the important conversations now with our students about, what do they want campus to look like?”
He also retorted Lukens’ accusation that the presentation was deceptive about its purpose.
“If the president ever does decide to go in that direction of having students live on campus in University Housing for two years, that would be something that would be known to students before they accept Cal Poly,” Humphrey said.
Any such policy would also include an exemption clause. For example, the current freshman housing policy exempts people who meet certain conditions — such as being married, being veterans or having permanent addresses within San Luis Obispo County — from having to live in University Housing during their freshman year.
In a Mustang News article originally published on April 4, executive director of University Housing Preston Allen was quoted as saying “students will not be forced to live on campus.”
In a later interview, Allen said he disliked using the word “force” to describe any potential housing policy. He didn’t necessarily mean to imply housing would never be mandatory.
Allen compared the theoretical housing policy to classroom policies.
“Very much like your classroom experience, faculty can require you to take classes,” he said. “They can make it mandatory to take classes. But they can’t force you to attend class.”
He said for the time being, his focus is on making housing desirable, regardless of any hypothetical mandates, again likening the situation to a classroom environment.
“I would want the classroom to be exciting, a place that you would want to be,” Allen said. “I’d consider it my job to create that environment. Sure, there’d be times where you prefer not to be in class, but when you’re there, you’re getting something out of it. That’s the kind of residential place where you want to be.”
Beyond the ambiguity about whether on-campus housing might someday be required for sophomores, Lukens was skeptical of the data supporting Humphrey’s claims in his presentation.
His PowerPoint included bar graphs showing higher graduation and junior retention rates among students who lived on campus during their sophomore years than students who moved off campus. Subsequent bar graphs demonstrated a similar pattern among subgroups of the overall population, including different colleges and categories of family income.
Lukens said the subgroup bar graphs only give the illusion of presenting new information.
“Virtually any student who’s taken statistics would know that subgroups within the sample of population follow the general pattern of the larger sample,” she said. “So really there were only two pieces of evidence presented, and really we don’t even know if the difference between second-years who do live on campus and don’t live on campus are statistically significant.”
Finally, Lukens said Humphrey’s data came from a biased sample.
“Those people likely to live on campus a second year can’t be directly compared to those who choose to live off campus,” she said. “Those are fundamentally different types of students, probably. You need to introduce other variables — specifically students with comparable GPAs, in the same major, comparable finances — all these variables in order to get any meaningful data.”
Despite Lukens’ criticism, Humphrey said the university stands behind the presentation’s data.
“The institutional data on students is very strong and very powerful and we continue to look at it,” he said. “This is a very standard way of institutions looking at the academic outcome of programs and services for students.”
ASI President Joi Sullivan said Cal Poly and the city of San Luis Obispo agree that the university needs to house more students, so she understands the appeal of mandatory sophomore housing.
However, she also had questions regarding the data supporting Humphrey’s argument.
“Just on a qualitative nature, some students do better when they live on campus,” Sullivan said. “Some students don’t.”
Allen gave the housing presentation to Panhellenic on April 21 and the United Sorority and Fraternity Council on April 22. Upcoming presentations by Humphrey and Allen are scheduled through the remainder of spring quarter as follows:
- Inter Hall Council (April 24, Allen)
- Poly Reps (May 8, Humphrey)
- Interfraternity Council (Date to be determined, Humphrey)
- Open forum with cross-cultural centers (Date to be determined, Humphrey)
- Orientation leaders (Date to be determined, Humphrey)
The Board of Directors will present a resolution against mandatory on-campus sophomore housing at its board meeting on April 29 in the Julian A. McPhee University Union (conference room 220).