Board of Trustees approves new Residential Commons plan

Students on Main QuadThe SMU Board of Trustees on Sept. 10 approved changes to the campus master plan to include the construction of new residence halls to accommodate a sophomore residency requirement at SMU. First-year students are already required to live on campus.

Five new halls will contain 1,250 beds and will be constructed on the main campus north of Mockingbird Lane near the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports. The halls will be configured as Residential Commons, including not only housing but also space for classrooms, dining, social and cultural activities, and live-in faculty and staff. Additional parking also would be provided.

Students would continue their relationship with the Commons throughout their SMU years through activities sponsored by the Commons, giving them an ongoing campus connection even if they live off-campus in their final years. The plan is to adapt most existing halls as Residential Commons. Under guidelines to be developed, students living in Greek houses their second year would meet the residency requirement. Each Commons would include a combination of first-year and sophomore students; upper-class students would be accommodated as space allows.

“Providing more students with the opportunity to live on a campus that is architecturally beautiful, student-friendly and filled with academic, cultural and recreational resources supports SMU’s goal to provide our students with the best possible campus experience,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner.

The Residential Commons model “enriches the living and learning environment by emphasizing academic and social balance,” said SMU Provost Paul Ludden. “This intellectual and social community will be appealing to the high-achieving students we seek in greater numbers. The presence of faculty in Residential Commons will create greater opportunities for sharing ideas, informal interactions and mentoring.”

“There is definitely a correlation between multi-year student housing and academic success,” Turner added. Sophomore housing on campuses been linked to higher retention rates and a greater sense of camaraderie among students. The sophomore residency requirement has been recommended by several recent SMU advisory groups, among them the Honors Task Force and the President’s Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention. Campus planners gathered information from several other universities with multi-year housing, including Rice, Vanderbilt, Washington University and the University of Southern California.

“No private university in the U.S. News & World Report Top 50 lacks the capacity to house all second-year students on campus, and no private university in that group has less than a 90 percent retention rate of first-year students, or less than an 80 percent 6-year graduation rate,” said Ludden. SMU’s first-year retention rate is 88 percent, and its 6-year graduation rate is 77 percent.

The cost of the five new halls will be $134.5 million and will be funded from multiple sources, such as bond proceeds, private donations, and rent revenue. Construction is expected to begin in 2012 and be completed in 2014.

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