More first years living off-campus than ever

An unprecedented number of Mount Allison’s incoming students are forgoing residence by choosing to live off-campus.

Sources from the students’ union suggested roughly 180 first-years are living off campus. The university would not confirm the estimates.

Off-campus students constituted the single largest group of first years, said Jeff Counsell, this year’s orientation chair – more than there are in any residence. This forced orientation planners to overhaul Orientation Week, as most of the activities weren’t designed to accommodate a large number of off-campus frosh.

“We didn’t have the largest attendance from off-campus students […] Of course, we can’t assume that this is because they lived off-campus,” said Counsell. We’re hoping to send out an orientation survey soon to gather some information, make deductions and make decisions from there.”

Ron Byrne, the vice-president of student affairs at Mount Allison, is concerned by the new trend. By making the decision to move off-campus so early in their time at university, students will eventually lack critical assets that are developed during one’s time in residence, Byrne said in a phone interview.

Focusing on the social and academic advantages of living in residence at Mount Allison, Byrne said that statistics show students living on-campus tend to have higher GPAs. Byrne says that in most instances, living off-campus makes it more difficult to build not only a “social network,” but a “support system – people you can rely on.”

“The biggest concern is it’s a fundamentally different experience living off campus than on campus. Students are not going to, on average, have the full ‘Mt. A experience’ and a far more difficult experience… I’m really hoping people understand that value   – residence is not simply about having a roof over your head. It’s about quality and benefits,” Byrne said.

Alejandro Angeli, a first-year Mt. A student from Moncton, said his experience is in line with Byrne’s assertions. “I have a friend who currently lives in residence and we’ll be walking together. He knows everybody and I know no one. That’s the bad part,” said Angeli. An ardent cyclist, Angeli’s nutritional needs and schedule simply could not be accommodated by what is currently offered by meal hall. “Making friends is, of course, very important to me, but I had to make sacrifices. […] Eventually it’s going to even out, but it’s going to take a long time,” he said of the social advantages of residence living.

In contrast, finding an off-campus room, even as someone with no prior connections in Sackville, was painless for Angeli. Over the past few years, Sackville has seen a number of new apartment and townhouse units constructed, which mainly house students.

“It was extremely easy. I simply went on the Facebook housing page, posted and I received plenty of replies. I simply made the decision,” he said.

The financial impact of so many off-campus first-years on the university remains to be seen. Official numbers will be released on Oct. 1,  and they will undoubtedly be significant.

“The financing of services offered in residence rely on a critical mass,” Byrne said. “It’s worrying, because all of the elements [of residence services] that we hold in such high regard will have to come under review.”

Jean-Sébastien Comeau