Featured image: Patrick Henry Community College officials have had discussions with real estate developers to explore whether to establish student housing at or near the PHCC campus.
Since their inception in the mid-1960’s Virginia’s Community Colleges have been “commuter colleges” with no student housing options on campus. At its most recent meeting, the VCCS State Board decided to explore the housing idea, instructing the VCCS Facilities Management Services office to develop a plan to reach out to real estate developers to determine their interest and qualifications to build, finance and operate student housing on or near VCCS college campuses.
“We’re not seeking detailed proposals at this time,” explained Bert Jones associate vice chancellor of facilities management at VCCS. “This will be a very early exploration of developer interest and qualifications. No timetable has been developed for this process at this time.
“It’s also important to remember that the costs associated with student housing would be borne by those who use that service,” Jones added. “VCCS tuitions should not be affected by student housing.”
By unanimous vote, the board approved the following resolution on November 21:
“It is recommended that the State Board approve the VCCS’s Facilities Management Services (FMS) department issue a statement of request for a statement of interest and qualifications from developers to provide design-build-finance-operate solutions for student housing, to potentially include section-8 housing, at any or all of the colleges in the Virginia Community College System.
After proposals have been received and evaluated, FMS will return to the state board with a recommendation and include consideration of the VCCS mission.”
Some VCCS colleges already have been exploring the idea. Jack Hanbury, Patrick Henry Community College’s vice president for financial and administrative services, told the board’s facilities committee that decent, affordable housing is in short supply in Martinsville and Henry County, and noted that half of PHCC students said they were “very interested” in college-affiliated student housing.
No commitments have been made, but early discussions at Patrick Henry focus on establishing a 200-unit complex on or near campus, with 1-3 bedroom apartments. Hanbury noted additional affordable housing could also benefit the local economy.
Tommy Wright, the president at Southwest Virginia Community College, told the facilities committee that having student housing would help his college recruit students for its athletic program, and argued housing would boost student retention levels.
At Central Virginia Community College, Philmika Reid, CVCC’s community connections coordinator, told WDBJ-7 TV, “Housing is a safety factor. Having somewhere safe that you can go home at night is important.” Reid also noted some students struggle with long commutes to get to class.
“I love the idea,” said Muriel Mickles, CVCC’s vice president of academic and student affairs. “I think if there was affordable housing close by or on campus, for many of our students who suffer from housing insecurity, that would be an answer to their prayers.”
The student housing idea may also have support outside of Virginia’s rural districts.
As the VCCS State Board considered the proposal, Chancellor Glenn DuBois noted that Northern Virginia Community College may be “missing out” on attracting more international students because it currently lacks student housing. “No parent is going to send their child to America if they don’t know where they’re going to live,” said DuBois.
VCCS State Board members acknowledged that being responsible for student housing raises a host of financial, legal, security, and operating issues, such as food services and other student life programs. In addition, the Board recognized that even if the decision was made to allow on-campus student housing, one size would not fit all, and operating issues would need to be answered on a campus-by-campus basis.
Board member Peggy Layne also asked – if there’s a clear demand for additional housing near community colleges — why haven’t private real estate developers already stepped forward to meet the need?
The next regularly-scheduled VCCS State Board meeting is set for mid-January, but there was no expectation that this proposal will receive further action at that time.