York College officials hope to attract more students with new housing

An empty parcel adjacent to 201 W. Springettsbury Ave. Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, is slated to be developed by York College. Bill Kalina photo

York College is planning to build a new stretch of on-campus housing for upperclassmen in an effort to keep more students from moving off campus and make the school more attractive to prospective students. 

Approved by  York City Council in November and city zoning on Dec. 19, the plan to build a pair of two-story dormitories — one with 32 beds and one with 47 beds — is scheduled for a vote by the college's board of trustees Feb. 18.

Officials purchased the 1.64-acre plot of land between 201 and 245 West Springettsbury Avenue, in York City — which includes  an existing residence hall, Springettsbury House — a couple of years ago, said college spokeswoman Mary Dolheimer.

That residence hall will remain, and the college received approval to build the two additional buildings in the urban residential neighborhood zoning district, with a special exception for dormitory housing, said city zoning officer Nancy Griffin.

Though it was purchased two years ago, Dolheimer said finances and timing lined up within the last year to initiate a master plan officials have been considering, including an overhaul of existing residence halls, she said.

More:York County colleges, others across the state see enrollment decline

"We know that prospective students do take into account the quality of housing," she said.

Part of that decision is based on declining enrollment, Dolheimer said. Over the last three years, the college has seen freshman enrollment decline slowly from 993 to 942, following a national trend.

"Clearly we’re in a market that’s very competitive," she said. "It’s time."

College officials want to provide attractive options for new students while also bringing back seniors who had opted to live off campus in recent years.

In the  last couple of years, the college has allowed fewer students to live off campus — a point of contention for some, including a group of more than 1,000 students two years ago who signed a Change.org petition to be able to live off campus as seniors.

More:York College students say housing rules unfair, want change

Though the college has had a four-year residency requirement in place since at least 2000, officials in 2018 had increased credit requirements from 70 to 75 for seniors to file exceptions to the policy. The requirement is now 85 credits, Dolheimer said.

Seniors were expected to live on campus if on-campus housing was not at capacity but could request to live off campus with good academic standing and conduct and the appropriate credit requirements.

It's not that the campus is at capacity now, Dolheimer said, but officials do hope to draw in seniors who would otherwise choose to live off campus, she said. The proposed  buildings would provide options for those students looking for more independence — and seniors would likely get the first pick, Dolheimer said.

She said the new complex will be apartment-style with multiple bedrooms and a kitchen.

The new housing will not increase total campus housing that much, she said, but allow flexibility as some residence halls are closed for renovation.

The reason many students chose to live off campus, however, also had to do with price. Off-campus housing was significantly cheaper in 2018, ranging from $3,000 to $3,500 for about a year's lease compared with $6,330 for a traditional  dorm room on campus for the school year.

Dolheimer does not yet know what the price of the new housing will be.

The new building project follows a $250 million campus building boom in 2007, which included an athletic complex, a performing arts center and new residence halls.

The master plan, including the two new buildings and renovations, will go before the facilities and finance committees for discussion, and then the board of trustees for a vote Feb. 18. These meetings are not open to the public.