Is student housing the answer for Palomar to ensure student success?

College can often be seen as a pathway to future success and stability, especially for those who face adversity. It serves as a turning point toward building a better life.  However, increased living expenses have made that goal harder and harder to accomplish. Students are being forced to prioritize basic needs over their education.

As more and more college students face a housing crisis, a call for action has grown in California. The state is looking into building affordable student housing for its higher institutions. 

The concept of on-campus
housing is gaining popularity among community colleges, and Palomar could be next to embrace this trend.

Community college has always been a convenient and cheaper option for students compared to four-year universities. Many college students are low-income, and the realistic side of attending junior college has helped them save money and live locally.

Over 9 million students attend community college in the United States, however, that number is decreasing as the price of living becomes increasingly unattainable. Rent prices in California are so high that most college students can not afford to live in the area where they go to school.

The Educational Researcher evaluated food and housing insecurity among undergraduates in 2017 and found that at least one-third of two-year students are housing insecure, including 14% being homeless. These numbers have since risen.

According to Governor Gavin Newsom’s designated housing budget. Infographic by Rachel Hyman.

In 2021, California decided to take action addressing this matter and assist in funding student housing for its colleges. The state established the Higher Education Student Housing program, which allowed California Community Colleges to apply for housing grants. The University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) school systems were also made part of this plan. 

Governor Gavin Newsom designated $4 billion to be distributed among the three higher education systems to build cheaper housing for their students. 

However, as annual budgets change, the money offered can fluctuate depending on the state of the economy. The housing program funds have already been delayed multiple times since its proposal.

Some California Community Colleges have already developed student housing.

Orange Coast College (OCC) built its complex, The Harbour, in 2020, and students since have been able to experience living on campus. The Harbour houses over 800 students.

“We are excited to be one of the first Southern California community colleges to offer on-campus housing for students,” said OCC on their website.

San Diego City College (SDCC) will join OCC in offering on-campus housing in 2028, which will also house over 800 students. SDCC broke ground on a possible site in 2023. Site preparation is in the works, and construction is set to begin.

“Our students and the campus community are very excited about the project,” said Cesar Gumapas, SDCC’s Information Officer. 

SDCC started the journey in 2022 with a feasibility study granted by the state to gather data about the demand for affordable housing.

“In a 2020 Real College Survey, 64% of students who responded reported that they experienced housing insecurities with 20% experiencing homelessness. Rent in San Diego, and everywhere else in the state, is very expensive. Our affordable housing development will help students have stable, affordable housing on campus,” Gumapas said.

They are in the early development stage with $75 million committed by the state.

Housing will be similar to apartment-style homes with a lower price tag, about $500 below market per bed. SDCC is looking to bring an average monthly rent price of $3,000 in downtown San Diego to $800-1,000 with this new development. Amenities would include a kitchen/lounge area, laundry area, study area, tutoring center, and a convenience store.

“Housing is a huge challenge for many, and especially for our students,” Gumapas said. 

This would be the first affordable housing option for low-income students in San Diego County.

The possibility of housing is something Palomar can likely expect in the future. 

Palomar is currently working to make student housing a reality, and it has been a topic well-discussed in governing board meetings.

At the Sept. 5 2023 meeting, Brad Glassik, the managing principal of HMC Architects, recommended a 2035 vision plan for the school. Glassik explained how housing at Palomar is possible and shared examples of potential locations, one on the north end of campus and one on the south end.

Since then, the discussion on student housing has only continued. Nick Mata, Student Services Vice President, has been handling all things related to it. Palomar received planning grants from the state, and now they are taking the steps needed to evaluate, according to Mata.

“As somebody who has worked in student services for over 25 years, having lived in student housing myself, and worked at four-year universities that have student housing, I see the benefit of it and it would be amazing for Palomar College to offer it,” Mata said.

Similar to SDCC, Palomar conducted a feasibility study at the beginning of 2024.

The results from the student housing analysis were shared at the April 9 Palomar Governing Board meeting. The survey showed that “affordability, sense of community, proximity, and stability were identified as students’ highest priorities.”

Of the 1,005 survey respondents, 66% expressed interest in student housing.

The housing models surveyed consisted of single-occupied units, double-occupied units, and quad-occupied units.

The consultants at B&D recommended building a facility with multiple unit-type options. If the project is set to move forward, the college is looking at 300-400 beds to build, with a communal kitchen, study rooms, workshops, and laundry units.

Students and faculty emphasized the importance of having a space to build community.

Depending on financial assistance, this project could cost upwards of $55-67 million. Palomar would need to partner with other entities in order to even consider building a housing facility. 

“Palomar College is not in a situation just by itself, to write a check for $60 million and build a facility, to be quite honest… the numbers right now are looking pretty high as far as building something that Palomar College could realistically do. It’s not out of the question but it’s definitely more of an uphill climb than we originally anticipated,” Mata said. 

Palomar has not been promised any money to construct a facility by the state, only planning grants. It has to play a waiting game to hear any more news regarding state funding or pay for housing itself.

Because of this, the school may have to pause the housing project until it can determine California’s economic state.

The decision is dependent on the May 2024 governing board meeting. The board of trustees will decide to either move forward with the project or postpone it.

“Our advocacy is not going to stop if this project pauses… the college is still committed to assisting students to find affordable housing in the area,” Mata said.

Julie Lanthier-Bandy, Palomar’s Public Information Officer said the project “would be a really exciting opportunity for Palomar.”

“It would be a differentiator as well, we would be able to serve so many more students… student success would be much higher because we have that engagement… it would be phenomenal,” Lanthier-Bandy said.

Research studies show how on-campus housing positively impacts student success.

A 2018 study from the Journal of Higher Education evaluated the relationship between simply attending a community college versus living on campus with transferring and degree completion. It found that living on campus significantly increased the possibility of upward transfer and bachelor’s degree completion.

A 2010 study from the Social Science Research Network revealed that students who live on campus have a higher GPA than those who do not. Showing on-campus housing not only provides a stable living environment for struggling students but also creates a space that is essential for success.

Palomar’s Feasibility Study, results provided by Nick Mata. Infographic by Rachel Hyman.

What do students think about on-campus housing for Palomar?

Simon Ortega, a 2022 alum said on-campus housing “would bring an even more diverse population of students to the campus.” 

There is an aspect of students from not only across the country but around the globe, looking to come to Palomar needing somewhere to call home. Housing at Palomar could make that possible.

“With the housing market being insane, I think Palomar would be able to offer some cost-effective and nice facilities for its students, and as an alumni, I recommend Palomar to any upcoming student,” Ortega said.

Ortega transferred out of Palomar two years ago but stays up-to-date on its expansion. He said he noticed how the college has only grown bigger after his departure.

“The new stadium is going to bring attention to athletics across the nation, students interested in the football program will then need places to stay,” Ortega said.

On-campus housing is a real possibility for Palomar and it has the potential to be successful, as it has been for other community colleges in California.

“One of the big reasons students go to community college is to save money, but oftentimes they want to move out of a bad situation, on-campus housing could allow that,” Mia Hecht-Nielsen, a first-year Palomar student said. She made it clear there is a need for both affordable and stable student housing in order to achieve academic success.

The future of Palomar housing is still undetermined, but the topic will continue to be discussed in governing board meetings. Palomar will only move on to phase three of the project if the board members vote to proceed. 

“We will see what the board of trustees says,” Mata said.