With decreased enrollment in the dorms and many of USM’s students enrolled as commuters, the question is: so, why aren’t more students choosing dorm life?
Susan Campbell, chief student success officer, stated that 19 percent of USM college students fit the bill for being traditional students — students that stay in the dorms throughout the entirety of their college careers. The Portland Press Herald has reported that college enrollment was down by eight percent at USM. To combat these low enrollment statistics, USM is concentrating their energy on generating residency in Gorham by creating a more interactive campus involvement with students. Some students, however, don’t show any interest in Gorham, and efforts made by the university may fall flat.
Rachel Tracy, coordinator of information reporting, security and degree auditing at the USM registrar’s office, spoke about the number of undergraduate degree-seeking students as a “snapshot” of students living in the dorms as of opening day enrollment of the 2013 fall semester. According to those numbers, there are roughly 1,096 students in the dorms, a number that is subject to change, as it does not account for fluctuations that might occur after the add and drop period for residential students.
According to Tracy, there were 4,997 commuter students as of opening day of the 2013 fall semester. As of September, there were 972 commuters living in Portland on university record, along with 199 commuters living in Gorham. These numbers, however, do not include commuters from the Lewiston-Auburn campus. These commuter students are not limited to commuters from Portland. They are of commuter students from around the state who attend classes at either the Gorham or Portland campus.
Regardless, the numbers show that more students are choosing to live off-campus than in the dorms.
Campbell said that USM is focusing its energy on building the college experience. Programs like Husky fest, demonstrations of hypnosis and live comedy have drawn large crowds of students, at least on the Gorham campus. But, Campbell stressed that the programs need to have a greater impact on the student community, with focused attention on commuter and transfer students.
Jennie Foley, a senior psychology major, thinks dorm life is a hassle. Foley originally lived in Gorham when she first started at USM. She then transferred to another school in Minnesota, but after a few years, found her way back to Portland in order to work for Equality Maine in the previous election season.
Foley said that she didn’t like living in Gorham because dorm life was distracting and uncomfortable because dorm students can be obnoxious and unpleasant to deal with. She also emphasized that there weren’t many things to do in Gorham, and that it was hard for her to make friends in the dorms.
“Portland is much more mature and culturally rich,” Foley said. “I’m a yoga teacher at several studios around the city, there are great restaurants and health food stores to check out, and a lot of good coffee houses. I go to Coffee By Design regularly. These are just some of the great things about Portland as a whole.”
A large percentage of students, according to Campbell, tend to live on campus for two years, then move to places like Portland for the remainder of undergraduate studies.
Taylor Carter, a junior economics major and Residence Advisor in Robie-Andrews Hall in Gorham, doesn’t see a downside to living in Gorham. Carter enjoys dorm life because he thinks there is an excellent community of students on the Gorham campus.
“I always see people I know when in Gorham,” he said. “It’s definitely more relaxed than the Portland campus.”
Carter enjoys the luxuries he has living on the Gorham campus. He also enjoys the town of Gorham. Carter said that everything he needs is within walking distance on campus, like the gym, library and cafeteria.
Julie Clavette, a junior social work major and dorm resident in Gorham, said she is tired of dorm life. Clavette said that due to lack of finances she had to live in Gorham.
The yearly rate for a double on the Gorham campus is between $4,600 to $6,900 depending on the dorm. For a single, it costs between $5,700 to $6,200, and a meal plan on top of that further increases residential student expenses. Meal plans come in two levels – a level one meal plan has a yearly rate of $4,720, and a level two meal plan costs $4,350 per year.
This means that a single will cost on average $743.75 per month, and the average cost for a double is $718.75 per month. Added on to this expense is the meal plan with an average monthly cost of $566.88.
Clavette’s experience in Gorham might be more comfortable than the average dorm resident. She lives in a single, so she doesn’t have to share the small space with another student. However, she admitted, she can find it difficult to live with residential campus policies.
“Campus life is restricting,” she said, “living at school isn’t fun, and I can’t do the things I want to do.”
Clavette had issues with finding housing last spring, and she ended up having to take a room in Anderson Hall, a “dry” freshman dorm that prohibits the consumption of alcohol. As a 21-year-old, she is upset that she cannot drink in her room.
“Living with a large amount of people is annoying, too,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t like sharing a communal bathroom with people and a lot of the freshmen are obnoxious.” Clavette also complained that all of her classes are in Portland and that having to ride the shuttle bus can often be troublesome. “A freshman I was sitting next to fell asleep on my shoulder once,” she said. “It was irritating to deal with.”
When Carter was asked why he didn’t choose to live in Portland, he stated that he probably couldn’t afford the rent for an apartment. Because he’s a Residence Advisor, his room and board at Robie-Andrews Hall is free. He also said that if he didn’t live at the dorms he most likely would live at home, which he does not want to do.
“If I lived in Portland, I probably would have to commute to school,” he said. “I know that I would feel rushed, and traveling would probably be hectic.” He said that he doesn’t mind riding the shuttle buses that run between campuses. In fact he likes it. “I can relax and listen to music without having to worry about driving through city traffic,” he said.
Nevertheless, Campbell said that the university needs to do a better job to increase enrollment on campus and into bachelor programs. One factor, she stated, that contributed to low enrollment was the decline in numbers of high school graduates, and this decline has a negative effect on universities.
“For me, Gorham is a convenient living situation,” Carter said. “I enjoy the diverse community that campus life has to offer. Every dorm has its own personality.”