A four-year university might not be the only option for Tri-Citians seeking an on-campus living experience while pursuing a degree.
A recent Columbia Basin College study looked at various data about the student body and surveyed more than 900 current students and found demand for housing for up to 250 students at the Pasco campus.
“Assuming that the preference for living on campus (as expressed by students in the Student Housing Survey) accurately reflects student interest, then CBC has considerable pent-up interest in on-campus living,” said a draft version of the report.
Any on-campus housing would require a private developer and the college has yet to seek proposals for such a project, estimated to cost about $22 million to start, not including the price of land.
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1/3 of CBC freshmen and sophomores would be interested in living on-campus
While a third of CBC freshmen and sophomores said they’d be interested in living on-campus, the report noted not all will actively pursue it if it’s provided. Interest in student housing is also down markedly from where it was eight years ago when the college last considered such a project.
And consultant Ira Fink wrote in a letter to college administrators that the projected rental cost to students looks to be above what students now pay for housing.
But David Ruiz, president of the Associated Students of CBC, told the Herald the report’s conclusions align with what he hears from many students — they want to live closer to campus.
“If we have housing, this will eliminate a lot of stresses,” he said.
Creating a community
CBC isn’t the only institution of higher learning looking at a creating an on-campus housing option for students. Washington State University Tri-Cities has pursued a similar project on its north Richland campus, though university officials recently walked away from a possible deal with a Kennewick developer. University officials said they will begin seeking new proposals for the project in the coming weeks.
CBC President Rich Cummins said the push for student housing at CBC is partially driven by the changing structure of higher education. The college is a commuter school, like most other community and technical colleges, but is increasingly filling a role previously taken on by regional universities. Having student housing would add to campus and student life, creating opportunities for more events on campus, intramural sports, themed living groups and could create opportunities for overnight camps during summers.
“It is important to integrate education into the CBC housing program and make education 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” the report said of the college’s objectives.
Filling a niche
Most students live at home with parents while attending CBC. Those who choose to live independently have few options near campus that aren’t single-family homes.
That’s what led the college to hire Fink, based in the San Francisco Bay area, to study bringing housing to campus back in 2007.
“But then we ran into the recession,” Cummins said.
The new study looked at what was considered before but also looked at recent enrollment data and the current housing market. Along with the survey, focus groups were conducted with students — those living on their own or with their parents, new freshmen and student athletes.
If we have housing, this will eliminate a lot of stresses.
David Ruiz, president of Associated Students of CBC
Thirty-five percent of freshmen and 38 percent of sophomores surveyed for the study said they would prefer to live either in a residence hall or apartment on campus. That is down from the roughly 50 percent of freshmen and sophomores who said they’d prefer on-campus housing in 2007 but would still give the college a pool of roughly 1,200 students based on 2016 projections. There’s particular interest in student housing among student athletes, with 60 percent of the more than 80 surveyed saying they wanted to live on campus.
When the likelihood of students pursuing available student housing is factored in, Fink found demand for nearly 100 beds in a residence hall and 150 apartments beginning in the 2016-17 academic year.
State law prohibits community and technical colleges from operating student housing, Cummins said, meaning CBC would have to form a public-private partnership with a developer to build and run any student residences. No site has been identified but it would ideally be located either on or adjacent to the Pasco campus.
Affordability looms as a large hurdle, though. Fink said CBC students living independently pay between $600 to $900 per month in rent and utilities. The college wouldn’t be able to spread the cost of new housing over existing student rentals as they don’t exist, putting the burden of covering any construction costs and profit for a developer on the project. While Fink did not provide an estimated student rental cost, he expects it will be above current market rental rates.
“If housing is too expensive, demand will be reduced,” the report said.
Cummins acknowledged that cost is a significant issue that the college will have to overcome if it decides to pursue student housing. Fink called for the college to seek numerous means to cover expenses to minimize any debt from construction as well as finding ways to defer debt payments until any student housing has been operating for several years. Building efficient housing, such as small studio apartments or student suites in a residence hall, also could reduce expenses.
Even with a higher rental cost, some students still would be willing to pay to live on campus out of convenience or other cost savings. Living on campus means not having to fight for a parking space for students who may currently drive to campus each day, Ruiz said.
Students using public transportation also would benefit, given the often long rides they sometimes have to take to get to campus, limiting their ability to stay on campus later in the day for events or certain classes.
“Most of their day is taken up on a bus,” Ruiz said.