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Future of housing at BSU: Variety of housing options, greater flexibility are keys to keeping dorms filled

New changes are in the wind for Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, as both institutions prepare for "the students of 2020," a phrase BSU-NTC President Richard Hanson has repeatedly stated.

As academics are being shifted at both campuses, the residential halls at BSU are also taking steps to accommodate the students of the future.

College dorms have come a long way in 30 years. At BSU, basement study lounges that once held book shelves with board games now offer flat-screen televisions with Nintendo Wii and high-speed wireless internet hookups. Local telephone services have almost become extinct. Students arrive on campus with their own computers. The requests for single rooms are on the rise. Semester- or year-long housing contracts are a thing of the past. Today, a 30-day notice is all that is required before leaving campus housing.

Roughly 1,400 students currently live in BSU's five residence halls. Between 30 and 40 of these students attend classes at NTC. In 1978, BSU's residential halls were at full capacity, roughly 2,270 students. Since then, however, the number of students living in the dorms has been on the decline.

Today, the residential halls at BSU are still under-occupied. One hall in particular, Maple Hall, has been empty for the last four years. But, according to Dale Ladig, BSU's Director of Residential Life, as BSU enrollment has continued to rise in recent years, so too has the number of students living on campus.

The university has seen a 3 percent increase in enrollment this fall and the number of students choosing to live on campus has increased by 25 percent in the last five years, according to Ladig. Approximately 85 percent of BSU freshmen live on campus.

Because the BSU Department of Residential Life does not depend on state funding, the increase in the freshmen class has placed it in a better financial position to begin remodeling projects, such as the Birch Hall renovation project to start this summer.

A renovated residential hall tends to recruit more students, Ladig said.

The Department of Residential Life is fee-funded, or based on student fees, such as room and board fees. It also receives revenue from playing "landlord" to certain areas on campus and money from laundry machines on campus.

"We are not fat and we're not rolling in dough, but we can afford some things now," Ladig said.

Ladig said offering students on-campus housing helps with recruitment, which brings in more tuition dollars to the university.

"If we bring more students in, there are more tuition dollars," Ladig said. "We are hoping there is a direct relationship to helping the university in that way."

In 2008, BSU remodeled Linden Hall, which now houses 180 residents in two- and three-person suites. While the suites offer students more privacy, Ladig said he feels they are not what most students will exclusively want in the future. Ladig said offering a variety of housing options, such as single- and double-occupancy rooms, suites and apartments is what the students of 2020 will want.

"I just don't think suites are enough," he said.

Since he started at BSU in 1978, Ladig said he has noticed three on-campus housing trends. More students are requesting single rooms, he said. More students have listed wanting to feel safe and secure as a priority. In addition, having access to technology is more important today than ever before.

Ladig said he has also noticed parents are becoming more involved in their students' college life.

"I certainly believe the student needs to learn how to deal the rules and community expectations as part of their growing up, but I also know if you involve parents, that support is huge," Ladig said.

With the increase in students' demands for single rooms, Ladig said he sees a value for freshmen to have roommates, though he admits he does not know how long this concept will survive.

"Many of the baby boomers shared a room at home when they were kids. Most of our students now have not shared a room as kids. To come here now and share a room with someone is trauma for some students" he said.

But to Ladig, learning to live with someone is beneficial to students.

"That support and learning to live with people with differences, I still think that concept holds to be valid," Ladig said. "There is a value for freshmen to have roommates."

In 2005, BSU completed a survey that compared the rates of on campus housing prices to off campus rates. According to Ladig, BSU officials learned it was at a "price-sensitive" point, meaning students were able to find better housing rates off campus.

"We will never be able to compete financially with a house, where five or more students go in on the rent together," Ladig said. "We are expected to meet certain codes and we provide staffing and programming for students."

With more students taking online classes, some university and college officials have speculated as to what will happen to the number of on campus residents.

While Ladig agrees students who are place-bound can receive a good education through distance learning, he is a firm believer in students living on campus. He said more discussion needs to take place, however, on what kind of residential campus BSU will be and what kinds of students it will serve in the future.

"You are, in a sense, stuck with buildings now, but so is the campus," he said. "I don't see us getting rid of being a residential campus. The extent to which we are a residential campus will be interesting. The extent to which our students will walk into a traditional classroom will be interesting."

Having the university or college be more flexible with student schedules and needs is what Ladig said future students will want.

"That flexibility will be important," he said. "I still believe in the importance of students creating positive relationships with faculty and mentors. I think that is more easily done on a residential campus than distance learning. I believe having access to peers and advisors is an important part of the process."

When asked why students choose to live on campus, Ladig answered with "convenience."

"Students have the convenience of finding friends, not worrying about monthly payments and having close proximity to academic buildings and the recreation center," he said. "There is support for them once they get here."

For the students of 2020, Ladig said his eyes are set on providing student with a variety of housing options, along with updating halls to accommodate technology, more privacy and increased safety.

"There is no one housing option that is perfect," he said. "What you need is a good mix of housing options."