GAPSA moves to get more graduate student housing

GAPSA has supported more housing for grad students and formally announced its position at the March 28 meeting.

Kevin McCahill

For first-year MBA student David Vasichek, living off-campus is much easier that living near school.

Vasichek returned to graduate school after entering the workforce when he finished his undergraduate degree. It’s easier and cheaper to live a suburban life, he said. He also said there aren’t any places near campus he liked.

“I like a unique place, not just mass housing around campus,” he said.

The 17,500 graduate and professional students on campus can be found living near the University campus and all over the metro area.

While many are happy commuting to campus every day, others aren’t. Recently, there has been a movement toward more housing options near campus and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly is ready to push the University into on-campus housing for graduate students.

The formal backing by the organization came at the March 28 GAPSA meeting.

Josh Colburn, second-year law student and GAPSA vice president for administrative affairs, presented the argument for the need for more graduate student housing.

“There are a lot of us and a lot are international students,” he said. “A lot of universities have dedicated housing, and I think that is what our constituents want.”

Andrea Scott, director of the Office of Admissions for the Graduate School said there are about 40 beds – 17 in Centennial Hall and 25 in University Village – saved for the 17,500 graduate and professional students enrolled at the University.

Colburn said GAPSA has supported bringing more graduate housing to the University and the meeting presented its position formally. GAPSA is supporting the creation of housing on campus in the next three years.

“We’re in a unique situation,” Colburn said. “Real estate is expensive in major metro areas. We are surrounded by a city (with) no obvious room for expansion.”

Because of this, Colburn said, there is an easy answer.

“The University needs to be able to construct housing that is affordable,” he said. “If we are going to pay rent, why not pay rent to the University that we are going to instead of some random business.”

Lisa Schulte, assistant director of housing and residential life programs in administrative services, said the University is looking into what can be done about graduate and professional student housing, especially for international students.

“I think the University realizes we need to do something,” she said. “We bring in these folks in from around the world and there has to be housing for them.”

There are other housing options, especially near the law school, but Colburn said these facilities often are easily filled and expensive.

Grand Marc assistant property manager Brian Nalezny said the apartment building typically runs at 100 percent capacity and there usually is a waiting list.

A large majority of students living at Grand Marc were law or graduate students, he said.

Nalezny said he didn’t think the cost of living at Grand Marc was higher than anywhere else.

“I think we’re on par,” he said. “We have affordable housing for anyone who needs it.”

But that doesn’t mean all students want to live on campus. Like Vasichek, first-year law student Kate McKnight chose to live off-campus in south Minneapolis and commutes rather than live closer.

“I didn’t come for the college feel. I want to be part of the city,” she said.

The University has the Como Student Community Cooperative, but its location – near the St. Paul border on Como Avenue Southeast – can make it difficult for some students.

“It’s not on or near campus,” Colburn said. “It’s still a commute time.”

Officials are in the discussion phase of planning for student housing, but Schulte said there is the possibility of building a new residential facility on campus or leasing a nearby building.

Schulte said there are two main issues that need to be focused on in the process.

“When we decide to build, then we need to be able to fill,” she said. “And we need to make sure that it is affordable for everyone.”

Schulte didn’t know when any definitive decisions would be made on housing.

Two years ago the Graduate School created the Affordable Housing Committee in hopes of finding solutions to graduate housing issues.

That included adding more housing information on a CD-ROM that is sent to graduate students. They also meet annually with property managers to talk about the needs of graduate students.

“I think the information is getting better,” Scott said.