JUNEAU — With a new 120-bed residence hall under construction, the University of Alaska Southeast hopes to attract and retain more traditional, full-time freshmen and boost its retention and graduation rates.
Freshman retention at Juneau’s campus has lagged behind that of University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Anchorage, said Joe Nelson, vice chancellor of enrollment management and student affairs.
In fiscal year 2013, the three schools were closer together, but UAS still brought up the rear with about 60 percent of freshmen returning, according to UAS numbers.
“For years it hovered around 50 percent,” Nelson said.
When compared over the same time period, UAF was a little ahead of UAS with about 65 percent retention, and UAA was in the lead with about 67 percent. The university has a total enrollment of almost 3,000 students, with 220 admitted for the spring 2014 semester.
Nelson said the new residence hall should attract more students to the university, improving its on-time graduation rates by guaranteeing a place to live — something not to be taken lightly in Juneau.
“Juneau is a tight housing market and housing is an issue, so it hindered our ability to recruit without having enough housing on campus,” he said.
The new hall features suite-style accommodations and will be able to house 120 freshmen, UAS project manager Nathan Leigh said. Located on campus next to the Noyes Pavilion, students will be close to their classes as well as tutoring and counseling services. The other residence hall and student apartments owned by the university are a 10- to 15-minute walk from campus via the campus trail, residence life coordinator Paul Dorman said.
Current UAS housing has space for about 280 students, he said. But Banfield Hall, the existing UAS residence hall, only has space for about 80. The rest of the beds are in the university’s two- and four-bedroom apartments.
“We have had overflow in some of our recent years at the existing Banfield Hall,” Dorman said. “Then we’re in a situation of trying to figure out that overflow.”
He said the school has had as many as 100 freshmen vie for a spot in Banfield, and the extras were placed in apartment buildings. It’s been a challenge to figure out which students to put in which buildings, he said. Although it’s intuitive to put students who turn in their paperwork late in the apartment buildings, studies “show that those last-minute adds sometimes need more support than individuals that have been more in the natural progress of turning in paperwork on time,” Dorman said.
“We run into an interesting situation of, ‘What do we do with those people?’” he said. “It’s difficult when you run out of room.”
In the new hall, students will be able to stay close to services and campus support, Dorman said, hopefully increasing the chance they stick around.
“The access is going to be much more convenient and we are going to be able to encourage students in their time of need,” he said. “We can transition those students over time to the existing student housing complex.”
The new hall, designed by MRV Architects, includes a common area and kitchen, as well as a classroom, Leigh said. The large windows in the suites open up onto a view of Auke Lake and the surrounding mountains.
“It’s the best view in town, I think,” Leigh said, climbing the stairs of the structure in progress. The residence hall is scheduled to open before classes start next fall, and incoming students can already sign up to live in the hall.
In the suite-style setup, four students will share two bedrooms, one bathroom and a small common area. And while the proximity to classes provides students with convenience, it offers the university something more: a chance to grow its student body, Nelson said.
“We know that full-time students generally retain at a higher rate, and students living on campus retain at a higher rate,” Nelson said. “For us it means an increase in graduation rates and getting students to graduate in a more timely fashion.”