Michigan State embraces 2-year housing mandate for students

Other colleges and universities are finding success, citing that the housing requirement boosts academic outcomes and creates a better sense of community.
By: | December 3, 2020
Hubbard Hall at Michigan State University. (© 2015 Michigan State University Board of Trustees)

A trend that became popular in the 1980s but disappeared from the residence halls in East Lansing is gaining steam again.

Citing a need to further support the students it serves, Michigan State University on Wednesday announced it will require undergraduates who enroll in the fall of 2021 to commit to on-campus housing for both their freshman and sophomore years.

Michigan State says that studies done by its Office of Institutional Research team show a 2.5% difference in graduation rates – and nearly a 10% gap among those from underserved groups – between those who live in university housing the first two years over those who only do so in their first year.

“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we, as an institution, act in ways that support our students and their success at Michigan State,” said Vennie Gore, senior vice president for Auxiliary Enterprises told the university. “Reinstating the second-year live-on requirement will help us better equip our students with the tools they need, while in a supportive and safe environment, to help them succeed.”

The two-year housing requirement is not uncommon, although many colleges and universities still only mandate students reside on campus for their first year. This year, scores of institutions lifted all housing requirements because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the University of California-Merced and UC San Diego, Princeton and Rider universities in New Jersey, and Concordia College in Minnesota.

Two of the many universities that waived that mandate because of coronavirus are Loyola University in Chicago and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. But neither Loyola or Bowling Green State University, which have 19,000 students on its campus and 6,000 beds in residence halls to serve students, is waiving it for the fall of 2021.

Like them, Michigan State is looking to next fall to kickstart that two-year initiative.According to the university, only 45% of second-year students lived in on-campus. With a potential for 18,000 students to live in its residence halls, Michigan State is hoping it can increase the number to 16,000 by next fall and boost their overall outcomes.

But it says the real impetus for the extra year in housing is that it gives students further access to academic resources and better involvement within the university community.

Many other colleges and universities feel the same. Tufts University in Boston says on its website: “we place a great deal of focus on the importance of living and learning together. We believe all students living on campus helps to create a more vibrant community.”

That second year is pivotal, say officials at Michigan State, which features a program called Spartan Navigator to help further their experience. Unfortunately, that was canceled this year because of the pandemic.

“Our partners in [Residence Education and Housing Services] have created a robust educational experience and provided exceptional resources in their spaces for students in their sophomore year,” said Mark Largent, associate provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies. “We look forward to working with them on this new policy because we know it will help students succeed.”

Michigan State and many other institutions are allowing exceptions – in particular to those students who are married, have dependents, live close to campus, live with family or are veterans. Here are some of the other institutions that require two or more years of on campus housing and some of their policies and benefits:

George Washington University in DC typically requires students in their first three years to live on campus. It waived that mandate for the 2020-21 academic year because of COVID. It says that rising second-year and third-year students will need to live on campus for 2021-22.

Xavier University in Ohio mandates a two-year commitment from students, including those who transfer. The exceptions: married students, those residing with a legal guardian, or whose home address is within a 35-mile radius from the university.

Northeastern University in Boston requires two years of on-campus housing, although it does consider waivers. Like Michigan State, it cites a ‘significant link between academic success’ and living on campus. Although first-year students typically live in dorm-style residences, that second year does provide a perk – it offers a number of apartment options in nearby halls that it owns, giving students a less institutional experience and a real city-living feel.

Murray State University in Kentucky recently amended its housing policy for undergrads, going from one year to two for the 2020-21 academic year. Among the exemption options is one for those who study 100% percent remote.

Fairfield University in Connecticut requires its 3,000 students live in campus housing all four years. Of course, for seniors, that might mean an on-campus university home located on the beach! But for the rest, the university says the experience of being at Fairfield gives students a sense of community and responsibility. It also helps that Fairfield pitches a ton of fun student activities such as game and movie nights and friendly athletic competitions.

St. Norbert College, a 2,200-student institution just outside Green Bay, Wis., also mandates that its undergraduates live all four years in campus housing. In addition to dorm-style lodging, it offers apartments and unique service-oriented housing programs where students can live together and complete community-based endeavors that support children or those that promote co-curricular activities.