Butler University underclassmen got what some saw as very bad news last week: Starting in the fall of 2007, juniors-like freshmen and sophomores-will be required to live on campus.
The university claims the new rule will make for a stronger on-campus community, but the change coincides with Butler's struggle to fill a new 500-bed apartment facility, where rents are higher than offcampus rental houses.
Butler President Bobby Fong said a change has been underway for years to try to align housing options with "a larger philosophy of education" that would keep students on campus and increase student involvement in campus activities. He said many elite universities require four years of campus residency and that Butler thinks of itself in that league. The private college at 46 th Street just west of Meridian Street has roughly 3,900 undergrads and 500 graduate students.
Many officials and parents had safety concerns with the off-campus housing that students were choosing, Fong said.
Butler has had a policy in place for years that required freshmen and sophomores to live on campus, which Fong said helps account for the school's 88-percent student retention rate.
When considering options to lure more upperclassmen to stay on campus, the university decided to build a $32 million apartment complex east of Hinkle Fieldhouse and an $18 million workout and recreation facility to Hinkle's west.
The apartments, some of which include a view of the football field, are configured in groups of four private bedrooms that connect with two bathrooms and a large, joint kitchen and living area.
They are wired for high-speed and wireless Internet and include a clubhouse, computer lab, career counseling center and communal laundry facilities.
But as the apartments are primed to open for classes that begin Aug. 23, only 300 of the 500 units are rented.
Many students said that's because they have two main drawbacks: $700-a-month rent per bedroom and a dormitory feel.
"Obviously, the majority of students think they're overpriced because they're not full," said sophomore Nolan Yeakley, a finance major. "They need to take into account that we're students."
Local rental rates for houses run roughly from $250 to $400 per bedroom. Fong said the $700 rent, which includes utilities, at the university apartments is a "fair and necessary" price, given the amenities offered.
Yeakley also said part of the appeal of living off campus is the independence.
"You feel a lot more grown-up," he said.
Students weren't consulted about the policy change, Yeakley said. He said he understood the university's perspective, but wished they could instate the policy with a newly entering freshman class.
"We came here under the assumption that we could live off campus our junior year," he said.
Asked if the on-campus policy would eventually be extended to seniors, Fong said no, in part because many seniors do internships in their fields of study.
"I think by right, they should have the prerogative to live where they're going to student-teach or do their pharmacy rotation," he said.
Fong said he had hoped to increase the number of students living on campus without imposing a rule.
Local neighborhood association leaders mostly cheered the addition of the apartment complex when it was announced a few years ago, but the reaction from local landlords was mixed.
One rental house owner, who declined to give his name, said he didn't think the new policy would stick.
"It's hard to force people that age into something," he said. "I think the president is going to get some negative responses."
But others, like Langdon Kumler, who owns 10 houses in the area, said the change wouldn't impact him much because most of his renters aren't students. He said low mortgage rates prompted many renters to buy homes, a market change that hit his business harder than any Butler policy change could.
Kumler said most of his homes go to recent graduates who are working in the area, but he has one house he traditionally rents to juniors and seniors from a specific sorority.
"All [the new rule] does is make the turnover annual instead of every two years," he said.
Workers put the final touches on Butler University's 500-unit Apartment Village.