Edison State College welcomes first students in dorms

11:15 PM, Aug 20, 2012
 
A student body that lives together stays together.

And studies together.

And, Edison State College officials hope, graduates together.

The college on Monday opened its first residence hall, a $26.3 million project on the Lee campus that is as much about academics as housing. School officials began studying the option five years ago based on research that analyzed grade point averages, retention rates, graduation rates and social factors.

“If students live on campus, they tend to do better academically,” said Amy Teprovich, dean of students on the Lee campus.

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Students living in LightHouse Commons will have access to computer labs, group study rooms, on-site tutoring and other academic services. All campus buildings, including the library, are no more than a 10-minute walk from the residence hall.

Statistics show less than 10 percent of Edison students complete an associate’s degree in two years, and only two-thirds finish in four years. The residence hall’s opening coincides with a new class that teaches first-time college students how to adjust to the rigors of high-level academics.

While the residence hall might not be a gamble academically, it poses a huge financial risk. Edison’s financing corporation, a direct-support organization that generates its own funding, must start repaying the loan this fall.

The residence hall’s budget is based upon a 90 percent occupancy rate. As of Monday, only 325 of the hall’s 405 beds were taken, putting the rate just above 80 percent. Although the college launched a widespread marketing blitz, the financing corporation kept contingency funds in case registrations were slow.

“You build it into your budget for a few years while you get it going,” said President Jeff Allbritten, who said first-year occupancy rates at his previous job in Georgia were around 70 percent. “This is a standard operating procedure for year one.”

Allbritten said word-of-mouth is the key moving forward.

Across town at FGCU, residence halls have been near capacity for the past decade. In fall 2011, FGCU reported 3,676 students living in campus housing, one over capacity, according to director of housing and residence life Brian Fisher. The university maintains a waiting list and posts contact information for apartment complexes in south Lee County.
 
Edison’s student body began expanding when the college introduced its first baccalaureate program in 2006, and the first residence hall expands its reach beyond the five-county region that comprises Southwest Florida.

Ashley Lannon, 18, of West Palm Beach, admits she probably wouldn’t have chosen Edison State if it didn’t offer student housing. Although she could have opted to stay at home and attend a different college, the time was right to leave the nest.

“Being independent is a big thing for an 18-year-old,” Lannon said Monday as she unpacked her belongings.

Ten of Florida’s 28 community and state colleges offer campus housing, although some institutions restrict rooms to only athletes or students on scholarships.

Amanda Koontz, 18, looked at Daytona State College, Santa Fe College, Valencia College and Edison, which was the only institution with campus housing. She doesn’t own a car, so Edison emerged as the best option.

“It’s going to be exciting,” the Claremont native said before receiving her room key.

Not all new residents are new to the area.

Freshman Harold Pierre, 18, is from Immokalee, but opted to move into LightHouse Commons to avoid a long commute and high gas prices.

“I didn’t want to drive here every day,” he said.

Naples resident Timothy Burkett, 18, is taking an intermediate step before he moves away from home for good.

“I want to get used to living on my own before I go off to a university,” Burkett said.