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Housing options help students make the most of college; Beyond the dorm: Westminster boosts privacy, while the U. lets students group together by interest; Dorms evolve at two colleges in Salt Lake City

August 2, 2004, Monday

Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

BYLINE: Shinika A. Sykes , The Salt Lake Tribune

When Texan Jared Apollo Burgamy made plans to attend an out-of-state college, he put Utah schools at the top of his list. The reason: The Beehive State's reputation as the home of "nonpartying" institutions of higher learning.

But Burgamy, who landed at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, was in for a shock. "I was pretty naive to think there was no partying in Utah," he said.

Now in his third year, he discovered that Utah college students have plenty of dorm parties. They just don't force it on uninterested dorm mates.

"At some schools, you're looked down on if you are not a party person. I didn't get that here," said Burgamy. He was even more surprised by the lack of pressure to join in with the party groups.

While Burgamy, a Navy ROTC student, wanted few distractions while living on campus, other students have different expectations for their on-campus housing experience.

For example, Westminster nursing student Stacy Knudsvig has taken a laid-back, relaxed and open-minded approach about the selection of roommate. When students enter the school, they fill out a questionnaire and the school then assigns each student a roommate.

"My first roommate and I were extremely different people, but we got along fine," she said. "We never had a fight."

But the South Jordan native said she "sometimes" would like a bit more privacy.

"If you don't like having people around you, then dorm living is not for you," Knudsvig said. Despite the privacy issue, she likes living on campus, calling it a "valuable experience."

She also got a nudge from her folks.

"My parents feel that when you go to college, you need to move out of the house and start taking more care of yourself," said Knudsvig. "That was OK with me. I was ready to move on with my life."

Susan Heath, interim assistant provost for student development at Westminster College, concurs that college is a major transitional stage from adolescence to adulthood. She also says campus living can help students make that transition easier.

"We are seeing more students who are opting to stay on campus," said Heath, adding that last year there was a waiting list for on-campus housing.

Westminster provides housing for 497 of its 2,500 students, but does not provide married-student housing. More than one-half of its first-year students live on campus. Students pay between $ 5,000 to $ 6,000 an academic year for housing. That cost could total more or less, depending on which meal plan the student select.

While some traditions remain -- most schools require first-year students to include a meal plan with their campus housing -- there's a move away from the "dorm-style" campus-living arrangement.

In fact, many campus housing administrators bristle at the term "dorm." They prefer "residential living," or "student housing" -- or even "ResHall."

"A dorm conjures up a place to eat and sleep," said Heath. "Dorms no longer capture what we are doing to make living on campus part of the total educational experience."

Over the past few years, Westminster has opened three residential halls, following the newer models introduced on many college and university campuses. These new "ResHalls" offer a private bedroom for each student, semi-private bathrooms, and a combined living room-kitchen space.

"It's two, or no more than three, students to a bath -- rather than a whole floor using one facility," Heath said.

Meanwhile, as Westminster continues to assign roommate pairings, the University of Utah has gone high-tech. The U. and approximately 30 other universities across the nation allow students to select their own roommate, using the Internet-based WebRoomz (http://www

U. students can fill out a personal profile and answer survey questions indicating preferences, ranging from smoking habits to their definition of cleanliness.

The interactive program then matches students with similar tastes, and the participants can view one another's profiles, exchange e-mail or phone numbers, and choose a particular room accommodation, said Barbara Remsburg, the U.'s associate director for residential living.

With the additional student housing at Fort Douglas -- a legacy of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, which used the new dorms as athlete housing -- the U. now provides on-campus accommodations for more than 2,000 students. It also has just under 300 spaces for family and graduate-student housing.

One dormitory tradition that has fallen by the wayside is the "dorm mother" concept.

In the 1980s, residential living administrators stopped acting as surrogate parents and instead focused on treating students as adults and helping them be successful, she said.

That's part of a movement throughout the U. to create a greater sense of a campus community, said Remsburg.

The U. now has floors and wings in residential halls that are geared to students with similar interests.

For example, one entire floor is opened to students who enjoy "outdoor adventures."

These students, through a partnership with the U.'s outdoor-recreation program, participate in numerous outings, among them hiking, skiing and kayaking. They also learn outdoor survival skills.

For U. students interested in international affairs, there's the "Go Global" floor. These students participate and interact with the campus international centers.

And for students who want more quiet and less noise and activity, the U. has a 24-hour quiet floor.

"We have a variety of options," Remsburg said. "That's what makes residential living different from dorms."

Benefits of living on campus

Studies suggest there are numerous benefits for students who live on campus:

* They have a higher grade point average than those living off campus.

* Fewer first-year students who live in dorms end up on academic probation.

* They take more 8 a.m. classes than those who commute.

* They are more likely to graduate.

* They interact more with faculty outside of the classrooms, and are more connected to the campus community.