TAYLORSVILLE — Salt Lake Community College plans to develop its first on-campus student housing, likely entering a public-private partnership to make it happen.
The proposal, presented to a committee of the Utah Board of Higher Education on Thursday, contemplates 350 beds in apartment-style units on the college's Taylorsville campus.
SLCC President Deneece Huftalin said when she was selected president in 2014, there was "little appetite" for housing on community college campuses.
But that's changed over the years, particularly as SLCC and the Utah System of Higher Education have embraced a mission of making college more accessible and affordable, she said.
"Over the years, that is actually starting to shift and we're seeing more and more community colleges think about offering housing on their sites," Huftalin said told members of the board's Finance and Facilities Committee.
"More and more we're hearing from our students that they're insecure around housing, that they're insecure around food accessibility, that they're looking for affordable housing. Sometimes we hear from students that their home environment is not the best place for them to be really engaged in college. There's a lot of things pulling at them in terms of their focus in college," she said.
National research shows students who live on campus have higher grade-point averages and they are more likely to complete their degrees or certificate programs because "they are much more part of the college environment," she said.
Huftalin said she spent considerable time discussing the idea with Taylorsville officials and other groups.
"Last year we kind of started really getting serious about this and we brought on the Scion Group" as a consultant, she said.
Scion Group is the largest privately held owner/operator of student housing communities in the United States. Its portfolio includes 86 properties comprised of approximately 58,200 beds, mostly off-campus, as well as management of two on-campus portfolios.
Ted Risher, Scion Group's senior project executive, said growing numbers of institutions are developing housing. "Quite frankly, community colleges are probably half of our client book right now. We probably have 10 or 12 active community college clients in all phases of development," he said.
Huftalin said Scion's market and demand analysis shows a high positivity rate around housing.
"So 94% of our students said, 'Hey, if you had housing, it would be much more attractive for me to be there.' Eighty-nine percent said, 'Yes, it would help me stay and persist and finish my degree,'" she said.
There was high demand from first-generation college students "which surprised me. We had a lot of first-gen students saying, 'I would love to be able to be on campus. It would just make my study habits and my environment much better for me in terms of completion.
"We knew going in that our student athletes would benefit from housing and that our international students would benefit from housing. But what came out of this study was, we also have first-gen students and students with families who were also very interested in housing," Huftalin said.
The market demand analysis came out about the same time a larger conversation was occurring in Salt Lake County about the lack of affordable housing.
"So I think it really does fit into our overall strategic goals which is be accessible and be affordable, but make sure students are completing and do whatever we can to engage them on campus to complete," she said.
Committee member and Board of Higher Education Chairman Harris Simmons said the college partnering with a private developer to develop and operate student housing "is a really smart thing to do."
Housing developments are assets that have a very long life, he said.
"I think none of us really know what the formula is going to look like in terms of who's going to be on campus, what online learning looks like, etc., down the road. I just think this takes a lot of risk out of owning big assets like this that are not central to the mission," said Simmons.
On Friday, the higher education board authorized SLCC to proceed with the proposal to partner with a private developer and operator contingent on review by the Utah Attorney General's Office.