A new requirement that first-year students live on campus at Eastern Washington University has put a record 2,100 students in the dorms there.
The first day of classes began Wednesday at EWU, making it the last local college to start the 2014-15 school year.
For a university that sits just 15 miles outside Spokane, there are still many students who travel to class every day from the city. And certain students are exempt from the new “live-on requirement,” which every other university in the region already has in place.
But the idea behind the requirement is to increase retention rates and student success.
Stacey Morgan Foster, vice president of student affairs, said school officials found in their research that students who engaged more in campus culture are more likely to stay in school and graduate.
“Having that strong student engagement is a strong predictor of student success,” she said.
The past five years EWU has averaged 1,703 students living on campus, said chief housing officer Josh Ashcroft. Last year Eastern had an overall headcount of 12,791. Official enrollment numbers for the 2014-15 school year will not be released until 10 days after the first day of school.
Among the exceptions to the live-on requirement are students who are more than 20 years old, have medical conditions, live with parents, are married, have a child, or experience undue financial hardship, according to EWU’s website.
The university also is piloting a program called the First Year Experience this fall that will take freshmen and base curriculum in different subjects around a common theme. For example, courses for this year’s pilot will revolve around one book that will be used in English, government and biology courses throughout the year. The program also integrates first-year students into the EWU community by developing relationships with peers, staff and faculty, according to the school website.
Ashcroft said EWU always will have a high number of students traveling from Spokane or attending classes at the Riverpoint campus in downtown Spokane. But there is a renewed effort to give the Cheney campus more of a college-like atmosphere.
“Collectively (the university is) realizing the importance of setting that foundation for students,” Ashcroft said.
Josh Best, 25, is a sophomore who came to EWU from Canada. He said his wife is an EWU alumna . Before he came to Eastern, he was aware of the reputation it had as a commuter school.
“I think Eastern has had that perception for a long time,” Best said. “It’s a university that had the feel of a community college.”
But Best said the construction of new residence halls, like the Snyamncut dorm completed last year – one of eight at EWU – along with more people living on campus, will help change the perception of EWU.
Foster, the vice president of student affairs, disputes that perception.
“I have never felt like this was a commuter campus,” Foster said. “For the students who have been recently graduating from Eastern, I’m not sure that would be their experience.”
Reis Klarich, 18, is a freshman from Granger, Washington, who’s living in Snyamncut Hall. He said he would have lived on campus even if there was no requirement because it will be easier to meet people. He said he had a choice between EWU and Washington State University, ultimately choosing Eastern because of the smaller campus size. Even though his college life is just starting, he never saw EWU as a commuter school.
“It’s been a nice college experience, so far,” Klarich said.