With many colleges and universities facing increased enrollment, housing and residential life professionals are turning to area hotels to address their housing demands. While utilizing area hotels may provide a temporary solution to a recurring housing crunch the long-term ramifications may prove otherwise. In any event, Residential Life professionals must be prepared to manage the myriad challenges that are associated with housing students off campus.
Philosophically, utilizing area hotels contradicts one of the basic tenets of residential life and that is to provide a learning environment and related co-curricular programs which promote maturity and academic success (ACUHO-I Standards, 1991).
Additionally, the literature supports that residential life programs and facilities can have a positive affect on academic achievement, persistence, satisfaction, and personal development when the proper programmatic interventions are deployed (Anchors & Winston, 1993). Interventions such as special interest housing, geared towards developing living-learning communities, and first year student programs are best facilitated in college and university residence hall environments (Worden, 1997).
It is important to note that although assigning students to live in off campus facilities, (i.e., hotels, motels, etc.), tears at the core of our existence, it is an option. This option must be planned accordingly in order for residential life professionals to supervise and manage it effectively.
Establish an overall master plan. There are many considerations to housing students in off-campus hotels. A full-blown master planning process that could take up to six months to facilitate should be pursued. Establish timelines and adhere to them. A cross section of the campus community may want to be included in the planning process, and the inclusion of other departments can help get the entire campus community behind your efforts. Receiving a clear expectation about the length of the overall stay of the residence is helpful too.
Check with local hotels to research their policies for renting out their rooms on a long-term basis. Be sure that your and their idea of long term is the same. This will reduce the uncertainty for all involved. Some national chains will not lend themselves for any long- term use. Some restrictions include weekend/weekday availability. This is typically based on business travel or tourism constraints. Look at your area and see which applies to your campus.
Overall cost should be taken into consideration as well. Will the hotel charge the university at a bulk rate or by room. How will breaks in the university calendar be handled from a cost and occupancy perspective? An important question that impacts cost is the question of overall safety. The most “reasonably” priced hotel may or may not be the safest.
Safety and security is another important factor in selecting an off-campus hotel as a residential setting for college students. What are the security concerns of the immediate area to the facility? Is the actual facility a secure one? Does the hotel have a late night security staff or will the university provide this service? How is the university’s liability affected by the presence of its students being housed long term in a facility off campus? What is the university’s liability concerns as it pertains to Violation of the University’s Code of Student Conduct? Is the on campus university guest and visitation policy applicable and can it be enforced in this off campus facility?
The development of emergency procedures is another important consideration in housing residential students in off-campus hotels. When considering and developing these procedures, meet with and involve the local police and hotel management staff. Be sure to discuss and iron out the details on how to deal with behavior problems that could occur. You may want to follow the same avenue with local fire companies as well.
Does the hotel you wish to use meet with university, local and state fire codes? If the residence halls on your campus possess a sprinkler system, you may want to be sure that this off campus “residence hall” possesses the same. By having this sprinkler system in place, you may reduce the anxiety that students and parents have about residing in this particular facility.
What type of phone system does the building offer to students? Phone usage at hotels can be very costly, with many hotel rates charging $1.00 per minute for long distance calls. If this is the case, you need to actively communicate this with the students who are housed in the facility, and their parents. At Monmouth State, we recommend that the residents use phone cards, as they are the most cost beneficial for the students.
You also need to consider the needs of your staff running the halls. With some hotels, if the incoming/outgoing phone volume is heavy, the ability to make incoming or outgoing calls is drastically reduced. We encountered problems with staff being able to make outgoing calls during emergency situations. We solved the accessibility problem by issuing cell phones for staff.
Another important factor to consider is the potential transportation needs of the residents? Is the hotel site close enough to the campus to walk? Will the university extend an existing transportation service to include the residents of this off campus residence hall, or will a new service need to be created? What are the ramifications of the residents of the hotel as it pertains to the parking of their cars once they come to campus?
You also need to research the amenities available to students in the hotel. What access to special features of the hotel will students be entitled? Does the hotel have an exercise room, pool table, computer lab, extensive Cable TV package or a space for programming?
Does the hotel have a pool? If so, you may want to drain it prior to move in, or determine how you will manage the use of this amenity. If you decide to get into the “pool management business”, check with your university insurance policy to see it will cover this potential liability.
How will you staff the facility? Will paraprofessional or professional staff be compensated additionally for their place in the hotel? What are the recruitment ramifications that the hotel has on the Resident Assistant staff selection process?
Assignment policy and procedure considerations also need to be reviewed and evaluated. What is your university’s policy on the consolidation of those who reside in double rooms with single occupancy? This may effect your operation if your university is charged by an occupied room charge. You also want to develop a plan to move students back to campus to fill existing on campus vacancies. Who will be housed in the facility? First year or returning students? What factors will drive relocation decisions? Will you consider date of deposit for first year students, or your housing selection process for upper-class students when developing a moving priority list?
Consider regular meetings with students to discuss the process of moving back to campus.
After the process of researching options and signing contracts, the next important step is helping your students’ transition into the facility. Specialized information brochures will assist residents in understanding what living in this off-campus facility will be like. Consider all the things that students need to know, and tell them about it in a written publication that is provided to them prior to opening.
You will need to develop and provide deliberate training with the residence life staff assigned to the off-campus location and the hotel staff. These two group needs to work well together to make the off-campus operation run smoothly. Building an understanding of university policy and hotel operations of all involved is the key to success. On going dialog in the form of monthly staff meetings may help this group handle any situations that arrive throughout the length of stay.
An intensified programming schedule presented by the Residence Life staff during the first month should help the students make the transition to this “new hall”.
This list is not an end all, but it should help if your university ventures to go this route. At Monmouth University we firmly believe in the developmental advantages of all students residing on campus, but a hotel that serves as a residence hall can be viable with careful planning.
ACUHO-I, (July 1991). Self-assessment guides for standards for college and university student housing. Columbus, Ohio: ACUHO-I Publication.
Anchors, S., & Winston, R.B., (Eds.), (1993). Student development in the residential environment. In Student Housing and Residential Life. pp. 25-64, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hoover, R.E. (1997) The Role of Student affairs at metropolitan universities. New Directions for Student Services. Vol 79 pp.15-25.
Mark A. Holfelder, Assistant Director of Residential Life, Monmouth University &
Kevin M. Banks, Ed.D., Dean of Residential Life, Monmouth University