The Edmond Sun

September 10, 2013

Campus housing busting at seams at OC

University begins converting Tealridge to student housing

Lisa Shearer
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Student population at Oklahoma Christian University has increased by 6.7 percent this year with fall enrollment at 2,424 students, officials announced Tuesday.

That continues a trend of increased enrollment at the private Edmond university that prides itself on providing a full residential college experience. Risa Forrester, OC vice president of admissions and marketing, said the university takes to heart the catchphrase that “OC is home.”

To prove it, there are 1,686 students living on campus, which is significantly more than half the university’s total enrollment. Even though the university spent $34 million in 2005-06 to add a new residence hall called University House plus phases 5 and 6 to the University Village apartments, the need for more on-campus housing continues, Forrester said.

The university recently announced the unusual step of moving college students into its on-campus independent living facility, Tealridge Retirement Community, 2100 N.E. 140th St. The six-story structure was created on the east side of campus in 1990 to serve the needs of a growing senior citizen population with ties to the university and the Church of Christ. It also has taken enrollment from the general public.

OC president John deSteiguer stated in a press release that it is not anticipated that current Tealridge residents will be asked to move.

“This transition will happen in a slow and considerate manner to minimize inconvenience to the current residents. We envision a gradual and natural transition that will take place over several years,” deSteiguer said. “We have received positive feedback about the intergenerational interactions our student residents and senior residents have enjoyed the past few months. We know our students benefit by conversing with the fine Christian residents at Tealridge.”

About 30 married student couples moved into the facility this summer, which has 167 apartment units. Forrester said the university anticipates the Tealridge facility will continue to serve mostly married students in the future.

Most of these students were moved out of Phase 2 apartments on campus, which the university plans to raze.

“This gives us flexibility in the short-term,” Forrester said as the university grapples with how to maintain its on-campus experience, which it sees as integral to the value it provides students.

Forrester notes that the change in business model has not been without some anxiety.

“We are sensitive to and saddened by the anxiety it’s causing for some of our residents,” she said.

Services will continue to be offered to senior residents — who range in age from 70 to 97. Staffing levels are expected to be maintained throughout the transition. Those who have contracts to move in will have their contracts honored.

“We’re going to take care of (residents) and we’re looking forward to keeping those promises,” Forrester said.

A core belief of President deSteiguer is to keep student costs as stable as possible. The university for the second year has not raised tuition. Forrester said the university looked carefully at its options before deciding to change the core business model at Tealridge. Ultimately, officials decided they did not want to saddle the university with more debt at this time, which most likely would have forced an increase in tuition rates.

“(The administration is) very sensitive to student affordability. We have weathered this recession pretty well,” she said. “We also understand that the market has changed — probably forever in regard to student debt.”

As deSteiguer and Forrester talked with students about their new housing experience, they were stunned by some of the reaction.

“The question we received the most when we went to talk with them was ‘Hey, we really like it here. You’re not going to make us move are you?’” she said. “We really didn’t know what to expect or how it would go.”

The wife of one student told Forrester that some of her new best friends are 85.

“We want to assure our senior residents that they have a place to remain,” Forrester said.

And Oklahoma Christian believes the unusual intergenerational housing arrangement will buy it some time as it considers next steps for future on-campus housing.

“We are committed to offering our students a residential experience aimed at building their faith and a stronger campus community,” deSteiguer said. “At a time when the costs of college and student debt are in the headlines, we are focused on delivering a high-quality Christian education at an affordable price rather than undertaking a major building project that could require large tuition increases to finance. This transition allows us to accommodate our growing enrollment in a way that honors Tealridge residents and benefits our students and their families.”