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South Forks breaks ground on new suite

April 21, 2011

With the construction of the South Fork Suites II underway, UW-River Falls’s Student Senate continues to oppose the administration’s and UW-System’s sophomore on-campus living requirement.

South Fork Suites II is targeted to accommodate second year college students. Intended to be an upgrade from the traditional dorm style living, the building is designed to house students in clusters of 20 to 24 people, said Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Gregg Heinselman.

The April 19 arrival of UW-System President Kevin Reilly influenced the decision to hold ceremonial ground breaking of the South Fork Suites II construction, on that same day, said Director of Student Life Sandi Scott Duex.

Over the next year, construction will continue to build a new model of residence hall, which is planned to accommodate 240 students, said Chancellor Dean Van Galen.

There will be several wings in the building, which will harbor a community living space, kitchen, and outdoor living area. It is going to be based on more independent living, but not as much as what South Fork Suites I offers, which is intended for upper classman, said Heinselman.

“The housing allows us to grow in enrollment and have the flexibility of having on campus living options,” he added.

“We do not anticipate any over crowding issues,” said Van Galen.

Tyler Halverson, president-elect of Student Senate, said he is concerned that with the possibility of an increased enrollment, overcrowding would continue to be an issue.

The Student Senate on April 5 unanimously passed a motion stating that with UWRF’s current rate of enrollment growth and continued over-capacity housing arrangements; it is “unwise” for the University to force sophomores into Residence Life housing.

Two years ago, UWRF housed 48 females in a nearby hotel for the fall semester. With student housing plans designed in January, the administration had not anticipated an increase in enrollment, retention, and female student population proportions, said Heinselman.

“Space is an issue and I think that it is embarrassing to put students in a hotel across the street,” said Student Affairs and Academic Services (SAAS) Director Jayne Dalton. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

In the fall, campus housing usually experiences a 102 percent housing occupancy, but by the spring, however, that number drops down to 99 percent, said Heinselman.

Van Galen said that UWRF does have some flexibility to the UW-System sophomore living policy.
According to the UW-System report to the State Building Commission, UWRF exempts freshman and sophomore students who are veterans, married, have dependant children, are 21 years of age or older, have earned 60 credits
elsewhere, are living with a guardian within a specified radius, or have a documented medical or psychological needs that cannot be accommodated.

“What I don’t like is the University telling me where to live,” said Halverson.

Halverson said he personally does not have a problem with the dorms. He is, however, more concerned with those who do not feel safe or comfortable in the dorms.

“Dorm living is not for everyone and it does not do much for those that are miserable,” said Dalton.

Student Senate Vice President Ashley Goettl said that although she is against the dorm living policy, she recognizes that there are other reasons supporting it.

A practical reason for high occupancy levels are lower room rates. The primary reason is students that live on campus generally have a higher grade point average, said Scott Duex.

Additionally, there is data supporting a higher retention rate between students that live on campus than off during their sophomore year, said Scott Duex.

The transition from freshman to sophomore year is a crucial period in terms of retention, said Heinselman.

According to a study done by the UWRF Office of Integrated Planning on sophomore retention in 2009, 87.4 percent of students were retained when they lived in a dorm. As for the students that lived off campus, 81.8 percent of the students continued their academic studies.

These numbers indicate that 45 dorm living students continued college.

“That number is important to us because those are 40 or 50 more success stories,” said Heinselman.

Dalton said she is skeptical.

“I find it hard to believe that forcing them to live on campus is the only way to keep them here,” said Dalton.

The motion passed by Student Senate further stated that the issue at hand should be addressed first by SAAS. SAAS is then supposed to look into the issue closer and than determine if it is in Student Senate’s best interest to carry the issue further, said Goettl.

If SAAS decides that Senate should not do anything with the motion, Senate can carry on with it if there is still a majority interest, said Goettl.

“It will for sure carry on into the next year—especially with Tyler as president,” she added.

“What I want to do is to look into the feasibility of the policy and if it is obsolete, bring to the Board of Regents level,” said Halverson.

With or without Student Senate’s approval, the construction of South Fork Suites II will continue to make way. It is projected that the additional student housing will be open for student accommodation in the fall of 2012, said Van Galen.