Pro & Con: Community should support building new Cal Poly dorm

April 7, 2014 

John Peschong


The topic: Should Cal Poly build a new freshman dorm on the southeast edge of campus, near residential neighborhoods?

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Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, has long been considered one of the best public universities in California, and this is not by accident. The school has continually made the success of students its top priority. A recent proposal to build new student housing is another example of the school making the decisions necessary to ensure students are in the most productive environment for their academic success.

According to the school, the proposed housing — a 1,475-bed project at the Grand Avenue entrance — will reduce the number of first-year students in surrounding neighborhoods and bring them on campus, increasing their overall academic performance. By bringing students on campus, they are closer to student services, and are less likely to engage in negative behavior off campus. Cal Poly’s vice president of student affairs, Keith Humphrey, said this will “help our students succeed and become better members of the community.”

Right now, there is demand for about 10,300 beds in university housing, but only roughly 6,900 beds are on campus. Building the housing will mean that 1,400 of these students will be able to live on campus, closer to the student community where academic success comes easier.

In 2010, researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Colorado College looked at the effects of dorm living on the academic performance of students. The researchers concluded that when students live on campus in dorms, they saw an immediate improvement of almost one full letter grade compared to students who lived elsewhere. It is clear that bringing first-year students into campus housing will be beneficial to their academic careers.

Despite the plan’s goal of maximizing student academic success, it has not gone without opposition. Nearby residents of the proposed building site have been vocal in their criticism of this idea, claiming that by allowing these students to live on campus, nearby neighborhoods will become overrun by traffic, noise and trash. It looks like this move will do the opposite. With these new dorm complexes there will be 1,400 fewer students in nearby neighborhoods and throughout town, which means these students will no longer be living and commuting from outside the campus.

Nearly two-thirds of San Luis Obispo homes are occupied by renters, so this move will reduce that number. On top of this, the school has said that there will be two new patrol officers hired to patrol the area surrounding the new housing. After all is said and done, both the students and the surrounding neighborhood residents will be better-served.

While the concerns of nearby residents are legitimate, Cal Poly is doing what it feels it needs to do to continue promoting the success of its student body. The argument is clear: When students live on campus, they perform better academically. The university and its students are the heartbeat of the San Luis Obispo community. Supporting the decision to build new housing will improve the community and increase the academic performance of our students. It’s a win-win situation that I think we should all support.

John Allan Peschong served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration and as a senior strategist for the campaigns of President George W. Bush. He is a founding partner of Meridian Pacific Inc., a public relations and affairs company, and serves as chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party.

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