Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add context regarding exceptions.
Incoming freshman Jenna Melton will pack her life into boxes, leave her hometown and arrive at the dorms to begin her first year of college next semester. However, the dorms were not her first choice.
Starting fall 2022, Kansas State will require all first-year students to live on campus for two semesters. Derek Jackson, associate vice president of student life and director of Housing and Dining Services, said the change aims to help students perform better academically.
“On-campus students have a 2.9 GPA for freshmen. Off-campus has a 2.39,” Jackson said. “The retention rate is almost 90 percent for freshmen who live on-campus. For freshmen who live off-campus, it’s in the 60 percent.”
K-State has not had a freshman residency policy since 1986. The idea to reestablish it came from former President Kirk Schulz, K-State’s thirteenth president serving from 2009 to 2016.
“We did a strategic master plan, and one of the first things he mentioned – and wanted out by 2025 – was to have a freshman residency,” Jackson said. “With the transition to our new situation with the pandemic, we have plenty of beds on campus to handle a freshman residency.”
Summer Sperke, freshman in theater and Wefald resident, said where she lives would not affect her studies or success, and thinks that assumption is subjective to each student.
“Being forced into a dorm is kind of like forcing students into an environment that they don’t want to be in and into an environment that they don’t think they can correctly do their academics in,” Sperke said.
Melton said she does not think her studies would be affected negatively if she lived off-campus.
“If students are focused on their education, it does not matter where they live,” Melton said.
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She also said first-year students should not be required to live in the dorms and that if it were not required, she would have lived elsewhere.
“The dorms are expensive, and I have other family members at K-State that I could’ve made living arrangements with,” Melton said.
On-campus living for the 2022-2023 school year ranges between $4,740-$6,950 a semester. Students choose a room type, residence hall and a meal plan, all with varying costs and amenities.
Susan Melton, Jenna Melton’s mother, said determining where to live should be a family decision and not a university decision.
“I feel like every child is different, and although it may be a good fit for some, it is not the answer for everyone,” Susan Melton said. “It’s definitely adding a major expense to an already high financial cost to attend college.”
Heaven Cedeño, freshman in open-option, lived in off-campus housing this year. She said she is saving more than $4,000 a year living off-campus, and that she could not afford K-State if living in the dorms had been required her first year.
“One of the biggest reasons I came to K-State is the fact that you don’t have to live in the dorms because it really can change whether or not you can do it if you’re paying for yourself,” Cedeño said. “If this was implemented my first year, I would not have been able to come to K-State.”
Students might be eligible for an exception for several reasons, including being a transfer student with 24-plus credit hours, having a verifiable financial hardship or living with a relative within 40 miles of campus, living in approved organized student housing (such as fraternities) and more according to the original K-State Today announcement from July 2021. Jackson said he and his team try to adapt to different situations students have, such as students living a little over the 40-mile radius or students on track to have 24-credit hours.
“The intent [of this policy] is to help students have a community here on-campus,” Jackson said. “We try to be understanding of the situations, and some of this is about documentation and communication.”
Cedeño said she would have filled out the exception form but would have gone to a community college or a local college if denied.
“I would have considered a financial exception because I am going off of financial aid, so there might have been some sort of exception, but if it wasn’t, then I definitely would’ve turned to a different school,” Cedeño said.
Sperke said there are many pros and cons to living in the dorms, but each person should determine what is best for themselves.
“The pros are it definitely pushes social life and learning how to live with someone else,” Sperke said. “Some cons might be a lack of privacy and a lack of space that someone might need.”
More information about K-State’s first-year housing policy, including the full list of exemptions, is available on Housing and Dining Services website.