The University Record, February 19, 2001

Planning for renovation of residence halls, construction of new one important steps in focus on undergrad experience

By Julie Peterson
Office of Communications

Total undergraduate enrollment (see chart below) has greatly increased since the last residence hall was built in 1968. Plans to build a new residence hall, proposed at last week’s Regents’ meeting, focus on the undergraduate experience and living-learning communities, such as the Michigan Community Scholars Program housed in Couzens Hall (shown below at right). Photos and chart courtesy Housing Information Office
A general plan for renewing the University’s existing residence hall facilities and building a new residence hall, the first such construction on campus since 1968, was approved unanimously by the Regents last week.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, told the board that the plan represents another important step in the University’s focus on the undergraduate experience. “We must understand that the quality of students’ residential life is connected intimately with their academic experiences. Not only do we want students’ living environment to support and enhance their academic achievement in the classroom, but we also will be looking for ways to foster additional learning communities within our residence halls.”

The Regents were asked to approve the general direction for renovating the 15 existing residence halls and construction of a new facility. Harper noted that details such as location, size, features and cost will be determined at the end of a comprehensive planning process. That process will include extensive consultation with students, faculty and staff; site visits to other schools; and research into campus housing trends nationally.

Provost Nancy Cantor said recommendations to come out of two presidential commissions—one focused on the undergraduate experience and another on the information revolution—will be a crucial part of the planning process. Cantor chairs the Commission on the Undergraduate Experience. Both commissions are expected to issue reports this spring.

“The work of the (Undergraduate) Commission builds on at least a decade of very intensive attention to the undergraduate experience across the campus,” Cantor said.

Couzens Hall
“Our students tell us we need to provide even more opportunities outside the classroom for close interaction with faculty and graduate students, and with advisers and mentors of all sorts. Attention to residential life, broadly defined to encompass the intertwining of academic pursuits and student life, is one critical piece of the next decade of innovations in undergraduate education at Michigan.”

The University’s 15 residence halls were constructed between 1915 and 1968, and have an average age of 43 years. Their capacity of 9,400 has remained unchanged during the past 30 years, while the undergraduate student body has grown by nearly 5,000 and the freshman class by about 1,000 during that same time period. First-year students are guaranteed on-campus housing, and about 98 percent choose to live on campus.

A consequence of these changes, Harper said, has been a shift in the makeup of the residence hall population away from returning students. “Yet, we know that first-year students benefit from a residential environment that includes older and more experienced student peers. An additional facility would ultimately allow us to increase the proportion of returning students living in campus housing.”

A new residence hall initially also would make it possible for the University to undertake more extensive renovations of its other buildings, Harper said. Having the overflow space would allow renovations to be done more quickly and less expensively.

Noting that students moving into campus housing have gone from “two suitcases to a minivan in three decades,” she said that both new and renovated student rooms are needed to adapt to contemporary student lifestyles.

New and renovated facilities also might include increased classroom space and community areas ideal for residential classes and educational activities. Developing the infrastructure needed to support changing technology, and providing an increased emphasis on safety and security are other important considerations.