Students at Stephens College speak out about financial changes

The administration plans to close two residence halls and raise tuition.

A Stephens College student walks by Searcy Hall on Thursday. Stephens will close two dormitories next year -- Searcy Hall and Prunty Hall -- which will require more students to share rooms.

To combat a darkening financial situation, administrators at Stephens College have decided to close two residence halls on the campus and raise tuition at the school by 5 percent.

The announcement was made Wednesday before 300 of the college's 800 students.

"It was completely out of the blue," Stephens College junior Kimberly Nelson said. "We knew that they were making budget cuts in the departments, but never the residential halls."

Nelson said she disagrees with the administration's choice in budget cutting. She said the decision to remove the dorms seemed unnecessary and will be an added financial strain to the students.

"I live in one of the dorms that got cut, so I'll have to live off campus or I'd move into a substantially higher cost dorm, at least a thousand dollars higher," Nelson said. "They should've talked to us about what we were willing to sacrifice."

Students were notified of the meeting to announce of the residential hall changes two weeks ago through a mass e-mail after the decision had been made, but were given the specifics of the changes in a student assembly Wednesday night.

Stephens College has an on-campus living requirement for all students, except for Columbia residents and those who are married.

"The policy for required on-campus living changed four or five years ago, but only for those entering freshmen," Stephens College President Wendy Libby said. "It's not unusual in many fine colleges around the country. Four-year residency allows for a more timely graduation and more community involvement."

But to some students, the residency requirements in addition to elevated room and board costs pose a potential problem.

"I think it's partly because of the economy," Stephens sophomore Caitlin Trowbridge said. "But I think that they're trying to just make more money, they're going to have a lot of people who do not want to go here anymore."

Despite these sentiments, the administration hopes through time and further explanation students will come to see the beneficial aspects of these changes.

"One of several decisions made was to close down two residence halls this summer," said Sara Fernandez, a spokeswoman for Stephens College. "The increases in tuition and fees are pretty routine. We're trying to help those what are having a hard time with the decision, which is not the majority of our students, understand the changes and make the best possible decision for the next semester."

As of now, arrangements for next semester's housing are being made to move the students from Prunty and Searcy halls, the two being closed, into Hillcrest, another dorm on Stephens' campus.

Stephens College spokeswoman Amy Gipson said Prunty and Searcy were for students with pets and members of the Kappa Delta sorority. She said the halls did not have air conditioning and had community bathrooms. She said Hillcrest has air conditioning and private bathrooms.

Gipson said there were room vacancies throughout the two dorms, and the amount of students could fit within the remaining dorms on campus comfortably.

"There was excess housing," she said. "This is how we're going to consolidate. These rooms were designed to house two people. It may look different to our students, but not nationally. This shouldn't be a radical change in policy for incoming students. They realize that when they join Stephens that there are options."

Despite administrative assurance of the positive aspect of these changes, some students still hope that there will be time to reverse the decision.

"Hopefully we can talk to our administration so we can come to a reasonable agreement," Nelson said.

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