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For more than 50 years incoming students at Ohio State have been required to spend their first year in a dorm. OSU president Gordon Gee has proposed requiring sophomores to do the same. University officials cite research that shows living on campus leads to higher student grade point averages and graduation rates. But some university-area residents fear removing a big chunk of renters will have an impact on the urban flavor of the neighborhood. WOSU’s Steve Brown reports
Of the 6,000 or so OSU sophomores, about half live in the University District just east of High Street. With more than 10,000 residents per square mile, it’s by far the most densely-populated zip code in the city.
On East 15th Avenue, students are out in full force. Frisbees fly from balcony to balcony and students chat over lunch at a picnic table in a front yard. Emily Moore is president of the University District Organization, a collaborative effort between OSU and several local non-profits looking to promote the area.
Moore is among the many residents and civic leaders who’ve raised concerns about how president Gee’s proposal to move sophomores into residence halls could affect the neighborhood. Gee defended the proposal in a recent appearance on WOSU’s Open Line, giving a host of ways he says student benefit from living on campus.
“There’s so much evidence that show far and away the best kind of collegiate experience, learning experience, the retention experience, the relationship to the social and intellectual life occurs when students reside on the campus,” Gee said.
Many of the OSU freshman required to live in residence halls live here, in Morrill Tower. Morrill and nearby Lincoln Tower are the tallest college residence halls in the country, and house about 1,000 students each.
On the 19th floor, a group of young men sit in front of a TV in what could be the world’s most stereotypical dorm room. An Animal House poster hangs crookedly on a wall, just overtop of a beanbag and some empty bags of potato chips. Two couches sit in the back of the room one is elevated to provide some custom stadium seating. But most importantly, there’s the video game system. Moltzen challenges his roommate to a round of Xbox. Today’s game: Call of Duty 4.
Moltzen says this is a fairly typical day of dorm life. In his six months of living on campus, he says he’s met lots of people and enjoyed himself. Instead of moving off-campus next year, he’s be staying in Morrill, moving just a few doors down.
“I actually like it a lot more than I thought I would,” Moltzen says. “Here in Morrill we’re close to the RPAC and the central part of campus. Downstairs we have the two eating facilities, so it’s good. I don’t mind living in the dorms at all.”
Downstairs in the lobby, sophomore Dustin Pappalardo is handing out fliers for his fraternity. He lived in Morrill Tower last year, and cringes at the idea of another year of dorm life. Mainly, he says, because of money. The average cost of living in a dorm is almost $800 a month, and that’s before food. Pappalardo says this year’s he’s spending about $500 a month, including food. He also takes issue with the idea of dorms improving your social life.
“If anything that’s going to keep you more constricted, especially living here,” Pappalardo says. “Because of weather constraints, you’re less motivated to go out. Plus you’re cut off from other areas of campus. I just know that from living here that’s not quite true.”
Pappalardo and some his friends now rent a house from one of the dozens of rental companies with property in the University District. Many of those landlords have been vocal in their opposition to Gee’s proposal. John Proodian is the chief partner of Ohio State Properties, a real estate company that owns about 30 properties in the University District. Proodian rents exclusively to students, and he says about half of his tenants each year are sophomores. With those students forced into university housing, he fears the only tenants he could find to replace them would be low-income.
“It’s not like home owners are going to move into the neighborhood,” Proodian says. “You’re going to end up with a bigger low-income ring, houses will be foreclosed on, more crime will come into the area. I think it’s bad all around. Property values will go down. I don’t think parents will want to send their students to Ohio State as much if they’re in danger of getting shot and more crime is in the neighborhood.”
But, University District Organization president Ellen Moore is more optimistic. She says the move could also brings new opportunities to attract graduate students, faculty, even senior citizens who want to live in a university setting. She says if any area of the city is capable of such a drastic change, it’s this one. Steve Brown, WOSU News.