Next freshman class will be required to live on campus

(Photo credit: Pam Phan/Fourth Estate)

Freshmen will be required to live on campus starting in the fall of 2016.

David Burge, vice president of Enrollment Management, and Rose Pascarell, vice president of University Life, have announced that the next class of first-year students will be required to live in one of the freshman residence halls during their first year at Mason.

Pascarell spoke about the reasons behind the university’s decision.

“Nationally, students who live on campus tend to do better academically, be more engaged, and more connected to their campus. [They] take more advantage of more resources, more services, and more participation in programs,” Pascarell said.

Pascarell said the requirement will hopefully help the university reach one of its goals in the 2014-2024 Strategic Plan: produce 100,000 career-ready graduates.

The requirement will allow a handful of exemptions. The exemptions will be given in the following scenarios: if the student has a primary residence in a nearby Northern Virginia county (including Fairfax, Prince William, Alexandria, Arlington and parts of Loudoun county), has a medical or disability condition, is active military, has veteran status, is married, has a domestic partner, has legally dependent children, displays a financial burden or has a religious or cultural conflict. The university will also consider “unforeseen changes in a student’s circumstance” as a viable cause for an exemption.

Fourth Estate previously reported that about 65 to 75 percent of Mason freshmen already decide to live on-campus. Also, 90 percent of freshmen who currently reside off-campus live close enough to the university that, had the rule been established this year, they would have been able to claim the first exemption.

Pascarell emphasized the importance of maximizing student success and creating a memorable experience for first-year students.

“What we are trying to create is a more dynamic first year experience. I would say, right now, lots of first-year students say that they have a good experience. We want to make that experience more accessible to all first-time freshmen,” Pascarell said. “You are in major that you want to be in, you are taking classes that you love, you are connecting with faculty, you are connecting with other staff members, you are going to events on campus. We are trying to create a more intentional first year experience.”

Pascarell said she wants students to engage and interact with their peers and thereby build a community connection.

She also emphasized the university’s priority of being an affordable school. “We want to remain accessible. We want to make sure that the pricing does not price students out [of] their ability to come to George Mason,” Pascarell said.

The idea of creating an on-campus living requirement for freshmen has been raised several times over the past few years. In 2014, Pascarell and other university staff analyzed the data relevant to this decision and in the summer of 2015 agreed on finalizing such a policy.

One expected challenge with this new policy is that Mason does not want there to be any negative pressure on students to live on campus. Pascarell said this is why the university aimed to create a lenient list of exemptions. President Cabrera and the community are trying their best to accommodate additional incoming students, according to Pascarell.

“We want to find creative solutions to building campus housing on our land or housing that is friendly to students that is adjacent to campus,” Pascarell said.

Other universities have already established freshmen residency requirements. James Madison University, the University of Virginia and William and Mary all have freshmen residency requirements and provide guaranteed on-campus housing. However, Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth University do not have a requirement set in place. On VCU’s undergraduate admission site, it strongly encourages freshmen to live on campus in order to achieve better academic success and build a diverse social life.

In Virginia, Mason has the second-largest residential campus community. About 6,200 students are currently living in Mason housing. Virginia Tech has the largest, with 9,340 students residing on campus.

Current students, however, have mixed opinions about the requirement.

Khushboo Bhatia, Mason’s student body president, thinks the policy will help incoming freshmen have a classic college experience.

“We have a lot of different students at Mason, so I definitely think [this] is something that they are doing to really encourage students to want that college experience,” Bhatia said.

But Katie Devereaux, a sophomore biology major, feels such a requirement is unfair to students who struggle with financial circumstances and that students should have the freedom to choose where they live and how to spend their money. She added that high school seniors would rule out Mason as a school to attend if they were aware of this.

A junior psychology major, Cheryl Puryear, believes that the policy makes sense at other universities but believes the decision made by Mason is unfair. She added that requiring freshmen to live on campus will result in overcrowding.

Edward Marney, a freshman biology major, agreed with the reasoning behind the decision. He stated living on campus encourages students to go to class and saves a lot of time and gas money. He also believes the new policy will bring the Mason community together.

Bhatia is hoping that the new students will find a home at Mason.

“What I am hoping is that [the requirement will] encourage a stronger community for those students that are on campus, so they would feel that they can be proud of their home at Mason, and hopefully we will [see] some school spirit generate from that,” Bhatia said.