March 17, 2016

Input for Housing Master Plan comes from on, off campus

There is only one way to find out what people need: Ask them. The working group leading development of Cornell’s Housing Master Plan is doing just that.

“Input for this comprehensive Housing Master Plan must be inclusive of all our students – on-campus, off-campus, Greek, independent living, undergraduates, and graduate and professional students – as well as faculty, staff, local community members and trustees,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. “We must be willing to ‘put all things on the table’ as they relate to the residential philosophy of our campus.”

In February, U3 Advisors, the consulting group engaged to conduct the planning process, met with Cornell leaders and staff to begin to understand the current state of student housing and students’ perspectives on the master planning exercise.

On March 9 and 10, U3 Advisors conducted student focus groups with about 40 student participants. Invitations were extended to graduate, professional and undergraduate students, with particular care to include international students, transfer students and graduate students with families.

“Our charge from the university’s Division of Student and Campus Life was to make this as inclusive a process as possible, so it was important for us to meet with a wide range of students and understand their housing experience at Cornell,” said Danielle Borden, U3 Advisors project manager.

Marty Rauker, senior director of strategic initiatives for Student and Campus Life, said students who attended the focus groups were fully engaged. “It is exciting to get such enthusiastic participation and input from our students,” he said. “The U3 Advisors team was very impressed with how conversant with the issues Cornell students are.”

Beginning March 18, a random sample of 3,900 undergraduates will be invited by email to participate in an online survey. Invitations to complete a graduate and professional student survey during the same time period will be extended to a random sample of 2,100 students.

“The surveys will ask students about their current living situation and what they like and don’t like about it, including their overall sense of community, plus how they make choices about where they live and how they envision the future of housing at Cornell,” said Leslie Meyerhoff, director of Student and Campus Life planning and assessment. The findings of these surveys will be complemented by the findings from the recently completed housing survey conducted by Tompkins County, she said.

This year’s Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars freshmen will gather data from their peers about their housing experiences in a complementary research project. “They will investigate housing issues in ways that simply are not available to us as staff,” Rauker said.

To fully understand local housing needs and desires, the working group is also engaging with town, city and county planners; residents; and representatives of businesses, government and social agencies. This community advisory committee is chaired by Susan Riley, deputy director of Community Relations.

“Student demand can raise rents and make affordable housing more challenging to find,” said committee member Ed Marx, county commissioner of planning. “On the other hand, off-campus student housing provides income to local landlords and can contribute to urban revitalization. To capture the broadest range of perspectives, community engagement in planning for future student housing is essential.”

The planning process will also include conversations with the Trustee Community Communications Committee, a group of local Cornell trustees chaired by Ezra Cornell IV ’70.