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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Opinion

The UH image: Looking to the future or respecting the past


Background: On Aug. 14, the University’s Board of Regents published a news release that stated the University’s plan to make on-campus housing a requirement for incoming freshmen would be effective starting the 2015-2016 school term. Within a matter of a few days, Texas state senator and UH alumnus John Whitmire, an avid opponent of the proposal, contacted President and Chancellor Renu Khator. By the end of the conversation, Whitmire was assured that the “bill was dead” and “no longer being considered.” Since the announcement of the death of the proposal, UH has erupted in contention over whether Khator was wise to push a bill that would break traditional and make UH a residential campus, or whether Whitmire understands the needs of the UH community by saying that its commuter image should be preserved. 

UH is not the same as it was in ’70s. We must not be stagnant.

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File photo/The Cougar

UH started as a small junior college to serve the local area. For decades it was dismissed as a commuter school and was even given the nickname ‘Cougar High.’ It has since expanded its program, resources and dormitories and is beginning to outgrow its function as solely an institution for working students or students with families to receive an otherwise unfeasible degree.

Other schools in the UH system offer most, if not all, of the same first-year courses as the main campus and are consistently being improved to serve students all over Houston who want to go to school while still living at home and juggling other responsibilities. After attending one of these campuses for freshman year, students can also easily transfer to the main campus to complete their degree.

In the light of this continued growth and in an effort to bring about important changes to the student experience, UH proposed mandatory on-campus living for first-time freshmen. This was on the agenda to be discussed at the Board of Regents meetings on Aug. 19 and 20.

There are many benefits to living on campus, including better grades and higher retention rates for residential students compared to their commuting peers. According to the Houston Chronicle, data was to be presented to the Board of Regents showing that over the past four years, UH has found higher grade point averages by anywhere from .01 to .11 points among freshmen who live on campus. Among minority students the difference between residents and commuters is even greater; African-American students who live on campus earned higher GPAs by .23 points, and Hispanic students who live on campus earned higher GPAs by .16 points.

This data also showed that students who live on campus take about one credit hour more per semester, and their retention rate was 3.4 percent higher. This larger course load allows for students to graduate sooner, which results in students paying less for tuition and higher four-year graduation rates for the University as a whole.

However, not everyone has been in favor of this plan; UH alumnus and Texas Sen. John Whitmire remembers the University’s past as a commuter school and wants to maintain this. He described his experience attending UH in the ’70s while living in a two-bedroom apartment with his mother and working to pay the rent.

“The diversity of the UH student body requires many of these students — I would say most of the students — to live at home,” Whitmire said to the Houston Chronicle. “The UH success stories are largely people that commuted. That built the University to be what it is.”

Following this, the plan was shut down due to “’mixed feedback’ from the community,” the most vocal of which has been Whitmire, who said he was “totally disappointed” and personally spoke to President Renu Khator, encouraging her to end all discussion of the proposal.

However, the overwhelming amount of sway that Whitmire had in this decision — a decision that should be made by the University and its students — is what is really disappointing.

The plan was not about forcing students to live on campus if they were unable to. It would have provided generous leniency with exceptions for students who live with their parents within 20 miles of campus, are married or have children and waivers were available for other students to appeal. The aforementioned schools and campuses in the UH system also provide an alternative to living on the main campus.

While Whitmire obviously cares about the success of UH, it is not the same UH that he graduated from in 1975. The University has improved greatly, and this proposal could have added to the incredible progress Khator has made in her seven years as chancellor of the UH system and president of UH.

UH has not and will not forget its purpose; it is simply expanding upon it. We are disregarding its potential if we make decisions based only on what the University has been up until this point. We must instead look to the future and what UH can be to the Houston community and, hopefully, to Texas and the nation.

Opinion columnist Eileen Holley is an English literature senior and may be reached at [email protected]

A university built on commuter status must continue to cater to same community.

UH has held the reputation of being a commuter school, but it’s not really a label we need to shred. Not as many students commute to University of Texas at Austin, but that demographic is specifically applicable because Austin is a college town.

UH is literally in the middle of Houston, making it the perfect destination university for Houstonians. As long as there are students commuting to UH — which they currently do and I hope will continue to do — the University will always be recognized as a commuter campus. It is up to us as a community to determine if that’s a negative or positive attribute.

Although we have the opportunity to house a large number of residents, it should not be a requirement to make freshmen live on campus, regardless of opportunities to appeal housing. We already have a large demographic of students who are willing to commute to campus, sit through rush hour traffic, deal with parking and navigate through campus to get to class. If that doesn’t scream dedication for an education, I don’t know what does.

According to the Houston Chronicle, University officials said that all but one of the University’s nine residential buildings are more than 90 percent full. Since Khator took over, four residential buildings have been built in an effort to get closer to Tier One status. I believe these buildings were only built in the effort to reach Tier One status and the new requirement was a motion to get those beds filled.

I don’t believe students come to UH for the “typical college experience.” What separates UH from other state schools is that it has its own experience. The University is at the center of a thriving city, full of life inside and off of the campus. The opportunities to network, work, intern, learn and gain professional development are endless.

“I’m totally disappointed,” said State Sen. John Whitmire to the Houston Chronicle. “Most of the UH students like their experience. They work, they go to school and they go back home to their community. There’s nothing wrong with being a commuter.”

Diverse is the best way to describe the UH campus. That is the double-edged sword of our campus diversity.

UH also has people of different lifestyles and financial and ethnic backgrounds. It’s not a case of “one size does not fit all,” as Whitmire said in an interview with The Cougar.

“UH was literally formed by the Cullens and founded by the Cullen family for working-class families and Houstonians to stay at home and go to school,” Whitmire said.

Looking at the University’s fall 2013 fact sheet, full-time annual tuition and mandatory fees are sitting at a grand total of $8,401 for Texas resident undergraduate students and $16,879 for non-resident undergraduates. Adding on roughly $5,000 for housing each year and additional costs if one’s housing plan also requires a meal plan. Political science senior Dailey Hubbard is one of many students who believe this required housing bill would have been unaffordable if it had been passed.

“It’s no secret; housing is expensive,” Hubbard said. “Even if one has the means to pay for housing and tuition, who is the University to dictate how a student spends said money? Four grand a semester? No thank you.”

According to the UH press release, which has since been taken down the University website (copy can be found here) — the housing bill was a “new student success initiative that would require full-time freshmen to live in UH student housing beginning in Fall 2015.”

While we can back up the argument that the University should require freshmen to live on campus with studies and research about higher GPAs, greater student involvement and an overall better college experience, I think the decision should needs to be left to the students for now.

“Requiring students to stay on campus, even if it’s done on a case-by-case basis, seems a bit much,” Hubbard said.

Some of the reasons behind the initiative make sense, but I don’t believe UH is ready to mandate that decision yet. Living on campus can be a luxury, but so is living at home. The students at this University are lucky enough to have these options and I believe, at least for now, students should have power over these decisions.

Opinion columnist Gemrick Curtom is a public relations senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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