The campus just made a record for maintaining a full Juniper Hall. As of winter term, Central Oregon Community College saw large percentages of returning and new students living in the residence hall.
In the past, COCC has witnessed a drop of residence hall students as the school year progresses. But not this year. Seventy-nine percent of students returned for winter term, which is an anomaly, according to Gordon Price, the director of Student Life.
“Sometimes we’ll get down to 70 percent, 65 percent or half of our students leaving,” Price said. “It’s really encouraging to see the students stay from term to term. We want that consistency and sustainability.”
There is a reason why high occupancy rates at the college are maintained. Students who decide to stay sign a full-year contract, and those who leave Juniper Hall in the middle of the school year are required to pay cancellation fees.
The new record at Juniper Hall is also due to incoming students, according to Paul Wheeler, the director of Residence Life.
“We had a large number of new students coming in to start winter term, which had our numbers come to an all-time high mark,” Wheeler said. “It’s something that grabbed our attention this year.”
COCC students might be pushed to stay at the residence hall due to a lack of available apartments. With a slight economic upturn, Bend has been in demand for more housing, and COCC students may be taking the brunt of that, according to Wheeler.
“We do hear a lot from parents and students that it is really difficult to find apartments or rentals,” Wheeler said. “I think students choose to live in the residence hall for at least the first year to get their bearings with Central Oregon, Bend and the college – and have that year to find a rental.”
Currently, only four community colleges in the state of Oregon – Southwestern Oregon, Treasure Valley, Coos Bay and COCC – have residence halls. Price believes that this gives COCC an advantage in gaining student enrollment.
“The amount of community colleges with student housing is comparatively small to four-year universities, most of which have a residence program,” Price said. “But there’s a trend nationally that more community colleges are moving that way, so I think we’re on the cutting edge.”
The news about high winter occupancy levels came right in time for the board’s decision to build a new residence hall, according to Wheeler.
“We’ve been publishing statistics for years, and every year we see that our occupancy numbers, our return rates, and our academically-related numbers have progressively gone up,” Wheeler said. “I think that information being provided to the board and decision-makers lends some assistance to the process.”
Price also thinks the information helped contribute to the new residence hall being approved.
“We looked at the numbers at Juniper Hall when we were planning a new residence hall: What that would mean, and how we would adjust so we could keep our students term to term,” Price said. “Seeing numbers at that level was a great indication that students do want to stay in the residence hall.”
There are other factors that could contribute to the high occupancy levels at Juniper Hall. Being close to classes and career interests can be a priority for some students, and while COCC is a community college, residence life can still lend a charm, according to Price.
“[Students] get that social taste they may find at a four-year university: The [resident assistants], getting to know other students,” Price said. “Some students choose community colleges economically, but they’re also choosing that social aspect, which community colleges lack and are trying to offer.”
As the new residence hall forms part of COCC’s future, filling the more-than-tripled amount of living space will be a priority.
Outside factors may detract from this effort. If future students choose to go straight to Central Oregon’s developing four-year university, OSU-Cascades, residence numbers for COCC might go down.
Nevertheless, the high rate of on-campus students should spell out continued success, according to Wheeler.
“People that contact us say a lot of times that the reason they’re choosing COCC is because we have a residence hall,” Wheeler said. “[Also] we have a lot of students from out-of-state staying here. When the new housing is created, it will hopefully expand that reach.”