ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca College houses just under seventy-five percent of its undergraduates in the college’s twenty-seven residence halls and two apartment complexes.
Compared to Cornell, where over half of undergraduate students live in off-campus housing, Ithaca College has taken a decidedly on-campus approach to housing its students. The first line of the college’s residential policy is clear: “Ithaca College is a residential college.”
For Dominick Recckio, a 2016 graduate of the college, that strategy is a good one. The Ithaca College experience is lessened, he said, when students decide to move off-campus.
“A lot of my friends that moved off-campus became less engaged in the campus community when they decided to move away from campus,” he said. Even Recckio, who served as IC student body president during the 2015-16 academic year, found himself somewhat detached from the campus community when he later moved into a house on South Hill.
“Living on-campus provides you with the ability to be really close with what’s going on,” Recckio said. On the other hand, living off-campus, he explained, “was more like a retreat from the day, rather than a continuation of it.”
The disengagement from the campus community when moving off-campus doesn’t happen to everyone, Recckio said. “But I’ve seen it happen over time, which I don’t see as part of IC’s strategy on housing.”
That housing strategy, which strives to keep students on-campus for both financial and community-building reasons, is a “core model for the college,” according to Bonnie Prunty, Ithaca College’s Director of Residential Life, “And (it) has been for years and years.”
That is because tuition, room, and board at IC—together totaling over $56,000 per year—support the general operations of the institution, Prunty said. Housing up to 4,526 students on-campus, she explained, is essential to the financial sustainability of the college.
The college guarantees students on-campus housing for all four years of their education, although many upperclassmen—mostly seniors—move off-campus after receiving approval from the college. Housing students on the college’s South Hill campus “underlines the mission of Ithaca College, that living on-campus is an important part of the college experience,” Prunty said.
In years past, the college has had some trouble meeting the demand for on-campus housing. Because of their on-campus housing guarantee, the college, as recently as 2013, has had to make use of creative arrangements to provide housing to all students who were guaranteed housing, after the admissions office admitted more students than the college had room for.
“The only way we can solve that is to encourage students who want to live off-campus to do so, or to use temporary housing,” Prunty said, where the college places students in triple-occupancy dorm rooms and converts residence hall study lounges into makeshift bedrooms.
“But for a number of years now,” Prunty explained, “temporary housing has been very limited—if at all.”
Steadily increasing the supply of housing
Since 2011, Prunty said, the college has been steadily increasing the supply of on-campus student housing in order to meet demand.
In the last five years, she said, the college has expanded its housing capacity by about 250 beds by turning four-person apartments into five-person apartments, and by converting unneeded office space in into dorm rooms for students.
“I believe the residential focus is a good thing,” Prunty said. “It’s core to the way the institution identifies itself. The programs and the services we have here we have because of the significant residential population on campus.”
“It’s difficult for us to imagine a shift from something that is so fundamental to the way we define ourselves as an institution.”
All of the current and former IC students interviewed for this article agreed with Prunty, that the college’s residential focus was and is an integral part of their college experience in Ithaca.
Nick Simpson, a sophomore studying international business and economics, transferred to Ithaca College from the University of New Hampshire. He said that the college’s residential focus was a “big factor” in his decision to transfer.
Although he said he preferred the physical residence halls at his old school, Simpson, who lives on an entire floor of transfer students in one of the college’s Terrace Residence Halls, believes that the college’s insistence upon students living on-campus invites a “broader sense of community feeling” than he experienced at UNH.
“You get what you pay for, at least compared to UNH,” Simpson said. “There’s more bang for your buck.” According to the college, room and board costs at least $15,000 per year. Meal plans range from $2,700 to about $7,000, depending on the number of desired meals per week.
“It’s slightly expensive, but definitely worth it,” he said.
Although the residential focus was not one the factors that led her to enroll at Ithaca College, Molly Feldman, a senior and a Resident Assistant in Bogart Hall, said that the college’s on-campus focus “formed (her) college experience in more ways in one.”
“I met my best friends at college because they happened to live on my floor,” she said.
First Year Residential Experience
In 2014, the college implemented the First-Year Residential Experience, or FYRE, in the college’s freshman dorms. That initiative, as part of the IC 20/20 Plan, sections off a certain number of beds for first-year students in order to promote a culture where the unique issues and concerns faced by first-year students, many of whom are away from home for the first time, can be addressed and supported.
Grouping first-year students together through this program has been a success, according to Prunty, who also serves as the college’s Assistant Dean for First Year Experiences. “First-year students are reporting a much more satisfactory experience than other first-year students who lived in similar buildings with a mixed class population.”
“It is our hypothesis that their satisfaction is because of the program: everything in these buildings is focused on the first-year student population, and everything is oriented towards first-year students,” Prunty added.
Lauren Penfield, a freshman living in Bogart Hall who is participating in the FYRE, said that the college’s on-campus facilities “could be better”—she complained that half of her floor of fifteen-or-so students currently has to share a single shower because of an unfixed second shower head—but, overall, “they’re not bad.”
“It’s not necessarily good that living on-campus is basically forced,” she said. “But it does encourage people to get closer and then have that option to live off-campus eventually.”
The off-campus living experience is “glorified” by younger students, Recckio said, but it does have its benefits. “It provides you with so much freedom, the ability to integrate into the city more, and to choose who you live with … you’re no longer at the whim of Residence Life, but at the whim of whoever you can pull together to live in a six-person house.”
But, he stressed, “a lot of upperclassmen stay on campus because it’s affordable, easier, and more sustainable because it’s sometimes hard to find housing off-campus.”