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What ever happened to off-campus housing?

At this time last year, Washington State University Vancouver was actively investigating the possibility of off-campus housing for the student body. This culminated with an April 23 request for housing proposals from any and all interested parties. By September, the housing project has been quietly tabled following an announcement in WSU Vancouver’s Campus FYI newsletter.

The establishment of student housing can be a key milestone in the growth of a university. Making housing available through the university would allow WSU Vancouver to draw from a much wider region than Vancouver and its immediate surroundings, and in doing so, raise the profile of the university in the region. Rather than draw the student body predominantly from students who were already living in the Vancouver metro area, WSU Vancouver could draw in students from abroad like large universities do, drawing them in with a place to live and meet new students who, like them, might be starting in a new town and not know anyone. On the surface, it would seem like a “must-have” for WSU Vancouver, so why was it quietly put aside?

Lynn Valenter, vice chancellor of finance and operations, was ready to answer this question.  She said the primary problems with the off-campus housing proposal were financial. The proposal required financing for a three-year period, but the awardee of the proposal had difficulty securing the full funding over that term. WSU leadership looked to provide flexibility by giving a term extension, but in the end, the financing to purchase the property in question did not come together.

With an eye on the future, Valenter said the financial hurdles make the future of student housing at WSU Vancouver uncertain, and that another bid for housing would need to be off-campus again.  The alternative, on-campus housing, requires a larger student body, and so WSU Vancouver will continue looking to explore the options to foster growth of the campus.

Valenter also assured that the off-campus housing bid was not a definitive end, adding, “the topic is never closed and I continue to meet with individuals and organizations expressing interest in both on and off-campus housing as opportunities present themselves.” While the topic may be tabled for the time being, the university staff continues to work toward achieving this important milestone for campus growth.

Student opinions on the topic of housing are divided. Some see its absence as a problem for the school, while others think it would be mostly superfluous. Cesar Moreno, a student majoring in anthropology, said “I think it would make the campus a bit less of a community campus, and more of a state campus where you can make friends and study. I was actually looking forward to it. I’m kind of sad to hear that it’s on pause right now.” Bri Wood, a student majoring in history, said she “didn’t think it was that important.  Basically everyone who goes here lives in Vancouver already.”

The WSU Vancouver leadership will continue to pursue the endeavor off-campus housing with a focus on both affordability and quality. “We want to ensure that the rates students would be required to pay are as affordable as possible. We also want to provide a quality residential experience that includes programming, as well as safe, secure and desirable housing and student experiences,” said Valenter.

While WSU Vancouver might not be spontaneously sprouting a new residency hall in 2014, the school’s administration is far from giving up on the idea entirely. WSU administration, both in Vancouver and at the campus in Pullman, are aware that student housing is a key factor in continued growth for the Vancouver campus.

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