UCM residency plan concerns property owners

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported the date when the Board of Governors approved the Learning to a Greater Degree Contract. During the meeting Feb. 22, the board approved the concept of the contract. The board voted March 21 to formally adopt the contract, which will become effective with the freshman class this fall.

By NICOLE COOKE

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – A new policy at the University of Central Missouri requires freshmen to live on campus for two years, and some local rental property owners don’t like the idea.

Mike Rich and Terry Farmer, both rental property owners in Warrensburg, expressed their concerns about the new residency policy during Thursday’s Board of Governors. Several other property owners came to support their presentation.

Farmer said forcing students to stay in the dorms will have a negative impact on the community.

“Taking 500 kids out of the community and keeping them in the dorms will have an economic impact on Warrensburg,” Farmer said. “It will affect grocery store sales, fast food sales, the people we employ. We’re talking probably a $5 million hit.

“If this is just about the money, then this is a good plan. It’ll get you the money. But if it’s about the students, I don’t agree with the residency contract. And even if it is about the money, if we lose enrollment because of this, it won’t gain us any money.”

Rich said there are benefits of staying in the dorms, but an extended residency could turn students away.

“I wanted my kids to be in the dorm the first year,” Rich said. “I thought it was the best thing for those kids to find friends, get involved. But after that it was important for them to get out on their own.

“With this new policy, I really believe that you’re going to lose students over it. Students want to get out on their own and we give them a good environment to do so.”

Rich said living on their own gives students a quiet environment for studying, something he said he hears a lot from his tenants.

“I think the rest of this plan is wonderful to get students out in four years, but there are only two other universities in Missouri that require living on campus for two years,” Rich said. “Students are looking at your competitors and there’s a good chance you’ll lose a good portion of them because of the new policy.”

Currently, Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau and Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla are the only colleges in the state that require students to live on campus for two years. However, UCM President Chuck Ambrose said Northwest Missouri State University is considering that requirement.

The board approved the concept of the contract Feb. 22. The board voted March 21 to formally adopt the contract, which will become effective with the freshman class this fall.

“This program focuses on traditional residential students, and this isn’t the strategy that most institutions are looking at,” Ambrose said. “Most schools are moving to more online or hybrid classes. We’re going back to the future with this plan. We’re reinvesting in the traditional student.”

UCM officials note that the university has the capacity to house more students as about 80-85 percent of first-year students live on campus. Some of the students exempt from the residency requirement live at home or are married.

The new contract is also designed to improve the advising program on campus. Provost and Chief Learning Officer Deborah Curtis said five new advisers should be hired to help lighten the load of current advisers.

“We need to be helping students determine the more appropriate classes for them to take,” she said. “It will be a little more descriptive for general education courses and we will make sure they are taking courses they are ready for.

“We’re improving our ability to advise students and we are hiring more advisers. We will work on predictability of a student’s success in a major. A story I tell often is about a young woman who was asking to repeat Intro to Biology for the fourth time and she was aspiring to become a vet. We have to be better at guiding students and telling them that’s not a likely path and showing them where their talents lie.”

The common theme throughout the meeting, and the theme of the new contract, is increasing degree completion. Ambrose said that according to current statistics, if 1,800 new students arrive in the fall, 550 of them are likely to leave without a degree.

A goal of the new contract is seeing that 100 of those 550 receive a degree. If that goal is reached, UCM’s graduation rate would increase from 49 percent to 58 percent in six years.

“Right now we are in the low-end of average for completion,” Ambrose said. “Moving 100 students will get us in the high-end of average.”

To help achieve that goal, students are encouraged to take 15 credit hours instead of the minimum requirement of 12. As an incentive, seniors who have averaged 15 credit hours a semester will earn a scholarship. The amount of the scholarship is still being determined.

Other aspects of the new contract call for keeping facilities such as the James C. Kirkpatrick Library and dining halls open later.

There is also a goal of adding 500 student jobs on campus and at workplaces close to campus. There have also been discussions with Coca-Cola to increase its partnership with UCM. Ambrose said the company is willing to co-brand and incorporate “Choose Red” into its trucks in St. Louis.

In other business, the board discussed another program review. Curtis said the review would be “to find programs that are less than viable.” This review comes just two years after a previous review eliminated several degree programs.

There was a closed session after the open morning session. According to Ambrose’s Twitter account, the Board of Governor’s approved upgrades and improvements to the runways at the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport.

The board also approved major window renovations to Nickerson Hall and Houts-Hosey Hall, a decision that Ambrose said would be a “major energy saver and appearance upgrade by August.”

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