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Freshman experience adds to living and learning at UNF


Many University of North Florida alumni look back on their days in the campus residence halls with fondness. They recall late nights studying and days filled with activities and friends. Most alumni can readily recall a specific memory of UNF that is tied to their experience living, learning and playing on campus. Their lives at UNF were greatly enhanced by living where they learned.


And now, all UNF students will have the opportunity to make memories of their own as the University enters a new chapter in its history. Students will have a firm academic foundation and an excellent chance to engage in the campus community.


Beginning in summer 2012, UNF will require all first-time-in-college students to live in the residence halls and purchase an on-campus meal plan. The Freshman Experience, as it is being called on campus, will ensure that students get plugged into a more vibrant campus life, forge relationships with a diverse group of peers and build a strong academic foundation.


“Students who live and learn together are better connected and achieve more success both in and out of the classroom,” said Jeff Coker, dean of Undergraduate Studies. “We have seen it time and time again and know that students who live on campus and take advantage of the campus at their doorstep get better grades, graduate and move on to successful careers and lives. We want every student at UNF to have that opportunity. And the Freshman Year Experience gives it to them.”


National research confirms that students living on campus their freshman year have a better overall experience than their commuting peers. Some of these benefits include a higher retention rate, higher grade point average, a quicker adjustment to college life and greater involvement in the campus community.


“Students who lived in a university residence hall during their first semester were 7 to 8 percentage points more likely to graduate than were students who lived off campus — a result we [the authors of the national study] obtained after controlling for differences in entering credentials and background characteristics, including family income. We interpret [these] findings as suggestive evidence that the individual students benefit from living on campus and that all students benefit from attending institutions where more students live on campus,” wrote W.G. Bowen, M.M. Chingos and M.S. McPherson in 2009’s “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.”


Along similar lines, the American Council on Education documented that students who live on campus have a 10 to 15 percent better chance of doing well in college than students living off campus. A study by DeAraujo and Murray indicates that the GPAs of first-year students who lived on campus were, on average, somewhere between a half and whole point higher than their peers who did not reside on campus. In addition, DeAraujo and Murray found the academic benefits of living on campus to be permanent. That is, students who lived on campus at any time during their collegiate years did better on their cumulative GPAs than student who had never lived on campus.


 “Internally, our data mirrored these national findings,” said Paul Riel, UNF’s director of Housing. “Once we determined the positive outcomes from living on campus, the decision was simple and obvious: first-year students should live on campus.”


Many students agree with the national and UNF findings. They find once they learn all there is to know about living on campus, the choice is very easy.


“At first, I was going to commute from my home in Fleming Island,” said David Brangaccio, a UNF junior. “But Swoopapalooza, the new student orientation, changed all that. I decided living on campus was too good an experience to pass up.”


Committed to ensuring the academic and personal success of our students, one of the best steps UNF can take to ensure that success is to require all students transitioning from high school to the rigors of higher education to reap the benefits from living on campus. Even students who are from the greater Jacksonville area will find living on campus to be wholly different from life in their own neighborhood. Living a life on campus is not like living in Southside or Riverside or any of the other myriad communities that make up Jacksonville. Instead, students, faculty and staff join together to make their own community based on shared academic and social pursuits.


“I chose to live on campus for a second year because of how well the halls helped me adjust to college my first year,” Brangaccio said. “Living on campus helped me so much with classes and making friends that after a summer of being away, I could not wait to get back to campus.”


Students can choose to live and learn together in freshman interest groups that center around topics of interest. In other instances students enrolled in the same program will be given the option to live together — Honors students will be given the opportunity to live with peers in the Honors program. To meet the varied needs of UNF students, there are several residence halls from which they can choose. The majority of floor plans are a modified suite-style room with a private bathroom. Amenities include high-speed wireless Internet, digital satellite TV, lounge space and laundry rooms, not to mention special programming to enhance co- and extra-curricular life.


First-time-in-college students are also required to purchase a meal plan beginning in summer 2012. In the fall, students will be able to use their meal plans in the brand new Osprey Café, UNF’s newest and largest dining facility. Students will be able to eat at several other locations on campus and be able to choose from a wide variety of healthy, well-balanced options.


While on-campus housing is mandatory for first-year students, there are a number of circumstances under which the University will approve an exemption from this requirement. More information about the exemptions can be found at Students must complete the form and provide all appropriate supporting documentation.


Students who are unable to purchase a first-year meal plan because of religious or health reasons may complete the appropriate section of the online mandatory housing exemption form. Documentation will also be required.


“I loved living on campus,” said Christine Kegel, a graphic design major from Tampa. “I met a lot of people, was close to everything and really felt much more connected to campus in just a short time. I can’t think of a reason why anyone wouldn’t want to live on campus.”