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Free Roomin’: President Jones planning to offer free housing for the Summer semester

Joseph Alderman, Campus Editor

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While many may lament the lack of a break, administrators are hoping to lure more students to take summer classes with the potential for free housing and an expanded catalogue of courses.

Announced last week by Dr. Dan Jones, president of Texas A&M University – Commerce, the university is looking into providing free housing for eligible students during the summer semesters as a means of increasing enrollment during those terms. Doing so would allow the university to make use of the number of unoccupied rooms in the dormitories used during the summer.

“The idea is that our residence halls are, for the most part, well, they’re not empty, but they’re not full either,” Jones said. “We do use them a lot for summer camps, y’know, band camp and drum major camp, cheerleader camp and those sorts of things, but that still leaves a lot of empty rooms. So, it doesn’t really cost us that much to actually provide free housing for the summer.”

Better utilization of space is not the only reason the university is seeking increased enrollment for the summer.

“It helps us in terms of funding: the higher our enrollment, the better our funding,” Jones said. “That’s kind of university budget 101, but it’s true.”

The university is not the only beneficiary of this program, however. Students who would otherwise be forced to go home during the summer will be able to use this opportunity to stay in classes and further their progress toward their degree.

“Really, there’s a couple reasons for doing it, the most important one being to help students improve their time to degree,” Jones said. “All of us in higher education, particularly at the regional level, need to do a better job of getting students completed in four years. We’re hoping that if we get students to take advantage of this opportunity then we can help with their graduation rates, and that’ll get them into the job market sooner, it’ll lower their debt load; it’s just an all-around good thing.”

Furthermore, access to earlier graduation would be able to help some students complete their degrees before they become ineligible for financial aid. According to the universities webpage for financial aid and scholarships, a student “may not exceed 150% of the number of credit hours required for graduation in his or her program of study, as published in the University catalog,” or else they become ineligible.

“It’ll help them graduate while they are still eligible for financial aid,” Jones said. “I think one of the most difficult things that so many of our students face is that their financial aid eligibility runs out before they complete their degrees. So, for a host of reasons, it’s the right thing for students in terms of an opportunity to help them graduate more quickly.”

Jones further extended his point by arguing that a greater amount of students on campus during the summer would also be beneficial to the local economy of Commerce, which is notoriously embattled during the breaks.

In order to make the most educated decision regarding this policy, Jones has assembled a Summer School Task Force, led by Dina Sosa, dean of enrollment management and retention, to oversee the logistics of the program and look for areas of improvement. One major area Jones discussed was regarding the scheduling of classes. An increase in enrollment would require a greater variety of courses to be offered over the summer.

“Since we are going to do this, we need to make sure we’re scheduling the right courses over the summer, so the task force will take a look at previous summer schedules,” Jones said. “We’ll talk about strategic targeting of particular student markets, and are we talking about degree completers? Is that who we’re trying to target? Do we want to focus on lower division service courses? I know a lot of students just like to get courses out of the way.”

One major difference in the summer course selection will be an increase in the number of in-person classes. Typically, a considerable number of summer courses are taken online, but the administration wishes to incentivize students to stay on campus by offering a greater number in-person.

“A substantial portion of our summer program right now is online courses, primarily at the graduate level, and of course those students wouldn’t be taking advantage of free housing, since they’re either working or have a home already,” Jones said. “And we’re not looking at discontinuing that. It’s very important, and a number of our programs in education are essentially year-round programs at the graduate level so that won’t be affected. What we’re really looking at is sort of expanding our enrollment in other areas to better serve a broader segment of the student body.”

In terms of obstacles to this plan, Jones appeared to be primarily concerned with staffing the extra classes.

“One challenge which we will have to stir into our planning process in ensuring that we have good faculty workforce for the summer,” Jones said. “Our full-time faculty are on nine-month appointments, so summer school teaching is optional. A number of them do want to teach over the summer and take advantage of that opportunity, but a lot of them like to take the summer and, they don’t really take it off, but that’s when they do their research or consulting or other professional activities. So, we have to make sure that we have the right kinds of incentives to get high quality faculty to teach during the summer.”

Many of the details have yet to be established for the program, such as how one becomes eligible or how many students will be accepted, but Jones hopes to have a completed plan by the winter break.

“We’re still in the planning stages, but this is gonna’ move pretty quickly,” Jones said. “We need to get our game plan in order by the end of this semester so that students can start planning early in the spring if they want to take advantage.”

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Free Roomin’: President Jones planning to offer free housing for the Summer semester