Study Says Dormitory Is Feasible at Northwest Arkansas Community College

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BENTONVILLE – A sufficient number of Northwest Arkansas Community College students need housing in the area to justify building an on-campus dormitory for up to 120 students, researchers have found.

Vogt Strategic Insights published the results of its college study last month in a 141-page document. The firm suggested a building with 60 one-bedroom units, each accommodating two people and including a full bathroom and kitchen.

The monthly rent per person recommended by the company is $ 525, or $ 1,050 per unit. This price would include furniture and utilities.

The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment was $ 868 in December in the Bentonville and Rogers area, according to the study.

The study noted the relatively high demand for apartments and the lack of student-specific options in the area.

“In our opinion, the project is sustainable and can achieve a stabilized bed occupancy rate of 95% or more,” the company report states.

College officials requested the study in response to interest in student housing from some board members. The college paid $ 10,300 for the company’s work.

The results of the investigation, however, do not mean that construction of a dormitory is imminent.

President Evelyn Jorgenson said she believes officials need at least a year or two to assess whether it makes sense to get into the housing business. Part of the problem depends on the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, she said.

Online education was already growing in popularity before the pandemic hit. If more students turn to online courses, the need for additional buildings on campus decreases, she said.

“There will be a change in the way we do our business and a change in the way we deliver education,” Jorgenson said. “And it was probably happening already, but I think the pandemic has accelerated some things. Residential institutions may find it difficult to fill those dorms or residences.”

Vogt’s report said covid-19 had so far not had much of an impact on registrations this fall. The authors said they expect registrations to remain stable over the next several years.

Enrollment last fall was 8,383, the highest for a fall semester since 2011. About 44% of those students lived in the college’s tax district, defined as the Bentonville and Rogers school districts. Over 29% were enrolled as full-time students.

Examples to follow?

A 2017 state law sponsored by State Senator Jane English, R-North Little Rock, repealed the ban on community colleges constructing, maintaining or operating dormitories. Northwest Arkansas Community College officials have since fought over the idea of ​​a dormitory. Some have visited community colleges in Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma to better understand what it entails.

At least two of the state’s two-year colleges have started building dorms. Both schools’ projects are slated to open this fall.

The National Park Community College in Hot Springs, a school of approximately 2,500 students, is building Dogwood Hall, a $ 9 million, 50,000 square foot residence that will house 180 students in 52 furnished apartments.

Melony Ritter, director of public relations and marketing for the national park, said the request for Dogwood Hall is in line with expectations for this point of the year. She could not provide the exact number of students who registered to live there this fall.

The University of Arkansas Rich Mountain at Mena, the state’s smallest two-year school with 866 students last fall, is building four condominium-style rooms to accommodate 138 students.

Northwest Arkansas Community College will keep an eye on the success of these projects, Jorgenson said.

“I think it would be wise of us to watch, listen and learn,” she said.

Board reaction

Todd Schwartz, chairman of the college board, said there was a lot to like about the idea of ​​the dorm and he was ready to explore it.

Schwartz shares Jorgenson’s concern about the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the pandemic. He also mentioned the college’s Washington County Center, which opened in January and is unpaid. The college foundation is still raising funds for the $ 12 million project; he had raised $ 5.8 million in January.

“I want to make sure that we maintain our fiscal responsibility to all of our voters,” he said.

Director Joe Spivey, former chairman of the board, said he appreciated the information in the study. While some colleges are building dormitories out of necessity for their students, northwest Arkansas has a good number of apartments, he said.

“I see benefits in this,” Spivey said. “But I don’t see enough advantages to justify starting to set up residences or apartments. Our registrations have stabilized. They have even increased a little. So we are not in a situation where we have to attract. students with university residences. “

A dormitory would also incur additional operating expenses, such as increased security and a food service program, he said.

Jorgenson remains neutral on the issue for now. She came to Northwest Arkansas after 16 years as president of Moberly Area Community College in Moberly, Missouri, which had college dorms. She understands some of the headaches that come with dorm rooms, namely certain behavioral issues among residents, she said.

“You have to have policies in place, you have to have procedures to follow, and you have to be prepared for the kinds of things students might do,” she said.

Campbell Hill, 18, just graduated from Greenland High School and plans to attend college this fall. She said she would take her classes on the main campus rather than the Washington County Center. The center is closer to her home but doesn’t offer many of the classes she needs, she said.

The trip from his family’s home to the main campus takes approximately 35 minutes. While she sees how attractive campus housing could be to some, she wouldn’t be very interested.

“My ride is not that bad,” she said. “It would be silly for me to live in a dorm.”

Hill took a few college classes while in high school. She chose to enroll because she likes the teachers and the relatively low tuition fees, she said.

Students interviewed

Vogt Strategic Insights is based in Columbus, Ohio. One of its main services is the market feasibility study for a range of residential and commercial real estate developments.

Jorgenson said she hired Vogt in part because the company was not doing construction and therefore could take an objective approach to whether the college should build a dormitory.

“We told them, we’re not leaning one way or the other. We don’t want you to give us a report that says ‘x’,” she said.

The Vogt study looked at the demographics of the area, planned and proposed projects affecting college ownership, and the strength of the local apartment market. It surveyed 41 apartment buildings with 7,938 units, mostly in Bentonville and Rogers and 95.4% were occupied in December, according to the study.

The study also took into account the opinions of students through a poll of 17 questions to which 341 people responded.

When asked about the importance of having the possibility of housing on campus, about 32% answered that it was important or very important. Another 21.7% said it was quite important.

When asked how likely they would be to live in on-campus housing if it was affordable, 53.6% said it was somewhat or very likely.

Affordable varies from person to person. When asked how much they would be willing to pay to live within a mile of campus, 55% said they wouldn’t pay more than $ 500 per month.

This is a problem for the board administrator, Mark Scott, who wonders if the college can provide quality residences at a price that students are willing to pay.

“This is an important question to ask before going any further in this process, as well as understanding the additional costs to college,” Scott said.

Scott, like other administrators interviewed for this story, said he wanted to make sure the college was on a solid financial footing before moving forward. Vogt’s study provided valuable insight into the region’s market conditions, he said.

About 29% of students surveyed said they would pay rent of up to $ 600 per month, while 10% said they would pay up to $ 700.

In other survey results, 59% said they lived with their parents or relatives. About 70% said they would be willing to have at least one roommate to reduce their housing costs.

The survey also showed that respondents were very interested in amenities such as a cafeteria, a full kitchen in their home, and close access to study and computer rooms.


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