A home away from home

By Dylan Nelson

International students at Whatcom Community College havea variety of housing options including subleasing apartments at Cascade Meadows and Belleau Woods from the college. Photo by Dylan Nelson.
International students at Whatcom Community College havea variety of housing options including subleasing apartments at Cascade Meadows and Belleau Woods from the college. Photo by Dylan Nelson.

While most community and technical colleges do not provide student housing, recent years have brought change in this area. A number of community colleges across the nation have begun providing students with some form of housing, and Whatcom Community College is currently looking into creating more opportunities for student housing.

College officials are looking at several ways to create on-campus housing, or to increase the off-campus housing choices that they can offer to international, out-of-state, and local students attending the college. The concept is being looked into in part because more student housing would allow the college to expand its international program, said Kelly Kester, the international programs director at Whatcom.

Kester said the college has 232 international students who utilize a variety of housing options during their stay.

“About 45% of our students right now live in a homestay. Then we have 20 or a little more percent living in our residence life apartments,” he said. “The other third of our students live somewhere else but they are not renting apartments from us.”

Another housing option for international students is to live at Western Washington University’s dormitories, but Kester said that fewer students have been choosing that option recently.

“Almost every year we’ve had some students staying at the dormitories at Western… but because we have been leasing apartments to students that has really diminished,” he said. “The downside [to living at Western] is it’s far away.”

Whatcom is currently leasing a number of apartments in the immediate area around the college to international and local students, said Nate Langstraat, the vice president for administrative services at Whatcom. “Fall quarter we will be leasing 71 beds between two apartment communities. Some of those are at Cascade Meadows and some of those are at Belleau Woods,” he said, both of which are located near campus.

Students living in these apartments pay a flat fee to live there, causing Whatcom to lease them at a loss, Kester said.

“No tuition goes towards leasing it. Students pay a flat fee, and we are not quite yet at breaking even on what they pay because we have to keep the price that they pay affordable,” he said. “Most housing units don’t make money for an institution. They lose money, but we are pretty close to breaking even.”

“When we talk about student housing it would be for all students, not just international students, although they are creating a large demand for housing at this point in time,” Langstraat said.

Kester said the international student population at Whatcom has grown by 300% in the last 10 years and the current available housing situation is limiting the college’s ability to grow in regards to inviting more international students to attend.

“That is the whole underlying question, and that’s ‘can we grow more?’ That’s what’s motivating this housing question,” he said. “We think we can sustain our current population of homestays but to do any dramatic growth we would want to look at other housing options.”

By the end of the year, those looking into Whatcom’s future housing options will present a recommendation to the Board of Trustees in terms of what decision is best suited for the college, Langstraat said.

However, this is not the biggest hurdle to overcome in the project, he added.

“The biggest question is funding source. There’s no identified funding source for us to just build something at this point so we would need a partner. The state would not appropriate funds for a residence hall so the financial model really has to be able to sustain itself,” he said. “That means we have to be able to provide market rates to students who are willing and able to pay to stay in there and that revenue stream [must be] enough to offset the operational expenses of the building.”

Kester said the discussion on creating student housing has been going on for years. “Even 11 years ago when I came here it was something that was considered,” he said.

Langstraat said he believes that bringing housing options close to or on campus is not just important for the college but for student success rates as well. “I think of it more as being a service to students … it’s one more service and resource for students that may need it” and that may help students succeed at the college, he said.

“National research and data proves over and over again that if students are engaged in campus life, they’re much more likely to succeed in terms of progressing through their college education and completing their degree and/or transferring on,” he said.

There are currently no plans to build any new infrastructure for student housing. Langstraat said that if the recommendation to the Board of Trustees results in an effort to begin construction on something, the process could take up to four years.

“It could take up to a year just to get a specific piece of land surveyed and permitted and ready for development before we even get there,” he said. “So we’re trying to lay all that groundwork now.”


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