Located far from population centers, in the Tazewell County town of Cedar Bluff, Southwest Virginia Community College’s Foundation will offer student housing, with the first units available as early as this coming August.
“We had to get creative,” said SWCC President Tommy Wright, presenting the foundation’s plan to the VCCS State Board January 21. Dr. Wright argues the facilities will reduce student housing insecurity and boost college recruitment and retention, especially with students who have enrolled at SWCC’s growing athletic program. Many student athletes come from outside the college’s immediate service area.
“I think placing the student housing, where they can be among their peers, across the street from the campus, and not having to have additional transportation, allows us to continue to recruit more students and it will reduce their costs,” said Wright. “There’s no better predictor of graduating than living on campus and being among your peers. The research is crystal clear on that.”
Wright spoke of an eventual need for 300 beds, but the first phase of the project will house 60 students in 15 four-bedroom units that will share a living area and kitchen. Each bedroom will have its own private bathroom. The first 30 rooms could be available as early as August.
The estimated cost of the first phase is $2.5 million.
Noting that the SWCC Foundation is responsible for the project, VCCS State Board member Peggy Layne recalled that many four-year senior institutions with heavy investments and exposure in student housing have suffered major financial losses from campus shut-downs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“So, housing isn’t always a panacea. It can be a nightmare,” said Layne. “I would never want to see the VCCS on the hook for student housing.”
The new housing facilities at Southwest will be built on a 25-acre property owned by the SWCC Foundation. Financing and management for the project also will be handled by the foundation. The project will not affect student tuitions at SWCC.
“We have a very vibrant Foundation, and that foundation has been extremely supportive of the institution,” said Wright.
Wright said the foundation expects the project to be profitable, and does not expect the foundation to seek any financial involvement from the college.
Wright added the school’s campus food and dining service will offer students meal plans. He said he hopes a local public transit service will provide access to groceries and other shopping. He said there will be a “zero tolerance” for any misbehaviors in the student housing facilities.
Wright had 25 years of experience with student housing in his earlier roles at colleges in North Carolina and Tennessee, and he wrote his dissertation on student housing.
The VCCS State Board briefly took up the subject of student housing in November 2019, and several colleges expressed an interest in student housing. Plans for housing on state land or using state resources have been shelved due to the pandemic.
This article was originally posted on the VCCS Blog.
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