:Chattanooga; :Nov 25, 2009; :Front Page; :1

Dorms on the horizon?

Chattanooga State plans to request approval for resident halls

By Joan Garrett jgarrett@timesfreepress.com

ON THE WEB Hear Gov. Phil Bredesen talk about dorms at community colleges. See students talk about why they want dorms at Chattanooga State Community College. Read a proposal given to the governor and previous stories. Comment.

    The idea of building dorms on community college campuses may have been a political tinderbox only a year ago, but attitudes about what such schools should and shouldn’t do are changing, officials say.

    Dormitories at two-year colleges may be key to engaging students and improving the state’s poor graduation rate, Gov. Phil Bredesen said, and Chattanooga State could be the first school to test his theory.

    “I think that there are plenty of examples of community colleges, and this may well be one here (in Chattanooga), where (dorms) make a lot of sense,” Gov. Bredesen said Tuesday. “They lend to more of a 24/7 feel to the campus, and I think would just generally be a good thing.”

    Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro said he will present a plan in March to the Tennessee Board of Regents, which governs the state’s two-year colleges, to lease land near the front of the campus to a private developer to build five dormitories.

    The first building, with 144 residents, could be up and running by fall 2011, Dr. Catanzaro said.

    “I have actively worked to bring dorms to Chattanooga State for more than a decade,” he said. “It would produce many more graduates for the state. Student life is important. That hasn’t been recognized in the past.”

    Dorms also may be a step to bringing some four-year degrees to community colleges, Dr. Catanzaro said, although it would not be a move to compete directly for students with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

    “There are plenty of students to go around,” he said.

    Gov. Bredesen spoke about dorms with Chattanooga State students Tuesday during a roundtable discussion at the new Health Science Center about improving the state’s two-year college system.

    Several students said dorms would make two-year colleges more attractive and help students make social connections that could encourage them to finish their degrees.

    They agreed that schools such as Chattanooga State should be allowed to offer some four-year degrees.

    “Having a more residential experience would increase my grade-point average,” said Dave Grisso, student body president, who is studying media technology. “It would give me people to study with and encourage them to stay in school.”

    It is Board of Regents policy to prohibit dorms at twoyear schools. No state law prevents community colleges from floating a bond for such a project, officials said.

    In March, a Board of Regents panel denied a request from Dyersburg State Community College to build a dorm on its campus using a private developer. Dyersburg State enrolls 3,395 students, and Chattanooga State enrolls 9,431 students.

    Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning said officials fear building dorms would raise costs and increase the need for student services.

    “When you take on students in a residence hall, there is an assumption — rightfully by parents and others — that you are responsible,” Dr. Manning said. “That is not something that the community colleges do right now.”

    He said that, with residence halls, colleges “have an obligation for the entertainment side” of the educational experience.

    Issues such as student housing and four-year degrees also may distract community colleges from their mission to provide regional educational access, Dr. Manning said.

    “We really don’t want community colleges to be recruiting statewide,” he said.

    Still, if the governor thinks dorms at Chattanooga State are a good idea, the board may support it, Dr. Manning said.

    “If this is something that the governor is highly interested in, it will probably happen,” he said. “We will see how he wants to play this out. It’s not to say every community college would end up with (a dorm).”

    Gov. Bredesen acknowledged that there may be some “internal games” involved. He said officials with four-year colleges oppose dorms at twoyear schools.

    But he said he thinks most Tennesseans will support the idea.

    “I think that one of the things that can make the twoyear schools more attractive is more of a college feel about it,” he said.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson Gov. Phil Bredesen interacts with students during a roundtable discussion about higher education at the Chattanooga State Health Sciences Building.

Jim Catanzaro