New student housing underway at USU Eastern Blanding

The recent dedication of USU Eastern’s Blanding Campus Administration Building was done with the rumbling of heavy equipment in the air. Excavation is already underway for new and much-needed housing on the 600-student campus.
Front-end loaders are carving out a site that will eventually room up to 74 students and more than double housing capacity on the 150-acre campus of Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah.  Plans are to start moving students in by spring of 2013. And it can’t come soon enough, said Kol Conway, housing and food services director.
“For us, this is huge,” he said. “We are a destination campus serving the needs of students throughout the Four Corners area.”
The campus has experienced a housing overflow for the past four years. Early on it began to reach out to local motel owners to house students in their rooms.
“We knew then that our housing shortage was a problem that was not going to go away,” Conway said. “That’s when we started seriously discussing our options. Of course, it’s a good problem to have. It means we are growing.”
Garth Wilson, campus vice chancellor, knows a little about growing pains. He was part of the campus early in the 70s when it was the College of Eastern Utah, and they had only trailers for classrooms.
He knew then, as he does now, that the students are out there and willing to come to Blanding for college if they can find a suitable place to stay. It’s an “if you build it, they will come” philosophy that is bolstered by grateful parents who live far away on the reservation. Many of them prefer to have their children live on campus in a safe and supportive environment, Wilson said.
USU Eastern uniquely draws some 65 percent of its student body from the nearby Navajo Reservation.
“We have reached our capacity,” Wilson said. “Parents want their children to be able to live on campus, and we want them to be able to as well. There is tremendous value, particularly with freshmen students, having a positive campus life experience.”
Wilson said the campus has exceptional facilities and resources. Students who are able to live on campus stand the most to benefit from those offerings.  And word has gotten out as the waiting list continues to grow.
“We know the demand is there for even more housing,” he said. “We are confident that we will fill these dorms and that when we build more of them, even more students will come.”
Conway said the merger with Utah State University two years ago helped to pave the way for this new construction.
“Before we were helpless to figure out a way to find funding,” he said. “Utah State University stepped up and helped us to make this happen.”
The new dorms will be paid for through student housing fees. What that charge will be is still under consideration. The current cost for housing in the traditional style dormitory rooms is $1,150 per semester.
The 17,200-square-foot building will break from tradition and consist, instead, of suites, common areas and kitchenettes. Housing units will either contain three or four bedroom units with two students per bedroom. Private room suites will also be available, Conway said.
Ultimately, what it means to students is comfort, convenience and the opportunity to be more deeply involved in campus life and activities.
“They are right here on campus,” he said. “They can walk in stocking feet to the cafeteria to get their food and then walk across the street -- hopefully in shoes -- to attend class. We think it helps them to be better, more focused students.”
Wilson said the college takes campus housing very seriously because of the opportunities it provides for students to interact more. Involvement and participation are pivotal to student success.
It is one of the reasons he believes USU Eastern has been ranked in the top three nationally for its student graduation and transfer rates: connections are forged, commitments are strengthened, students stay and graduate.

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