As enrollment grows, Maine community colleges look at options for housing students
Mar. 17—An increase in enrollment at Maine's community colleges has prompted lawmakers to consider studying how to offer more on-campus housing at the schools.
On-campus housing isn't common at community colleges, but there's an increasing trend around the country toward providing it. A proposal introduced by Rep. Daniel Hobbs, D-Wells, would direct the Maine Community College System to study housing, with a focus on the campuses that do not already provide it.
Finding living arrangements has become a struggle for many college students around the country because of increasing rents and housing shortages.
In Maine, which is grappling with an affordable housing crisis, some students struggle to find housing, especially in the southern part of the state, Becky Smith, director of government and community relations, said while testifying in support of L.D. 830 before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee this week.
"The president of Southern Maine Community College, Joe Cassidy, stated at a recent meeting that just a few years ago, SMCC students did not really struggle to find housing near our South Portland and Brunswick campuses," Smith said. "Now it is practically impossible. If he had twice the amount of on-campus housing, it would be filled."
Maine's community college system has seven colleges and serves about 17,000 students. Enrollment is up 12% since the state created a free tuition program. That has brought with it a greater demand for housing in an increasingly expensive rental market, Hobbs said.
Five of the seven community colleges offer housing, including on the South Portland and Brunswick campuses of Southern Maine Community College. York County Community College in Wells is housing some students in a local hotel, and Kennebec Valley Community College, which does not have housing, is exploring options.
SMMC currently houses 450 students in South Portland, 90 in Brunswick and, last fall, housed 100 in local hotels. CMMC houses 253 students on its campus in Auburn and had 71 students in hotels off campus in the fall.
Smith said the need for housing is not uniform across all campuses. Northern Maine, Washington County and Eastern Maine community colleges do not fill their residence halls.
The annual cost of housing for students ranges from $6,000 to $12,000, depending on the campus, meal plans and other fees.
Hobbs said on-campus housing "should be more accessible to all students so that finding off-campus housing is not added to the list of challenges students already face."
The community college system has already been studying how to maximize existing housing and support students who need a place to live or want a residential college experience, and the system welcomes the opportunity to continue that analysis, Smith said.
"It is important to note that simply providing a place to sleep and shower is not enough," she said, adding that students who live on campus need places to eat and study, transportation to shopping or off-campus jobs, social activities and qualified staff to help them navigate communal living.
The resolve directs the Maine Community College System to consider the cost of building housing, the availability of space on campuses, the cost to students, infrastructure and staff needed to support housing, and alternate housing options. The system would report its findings and suggested legislation to the committee.
No one testified in opposition during a March 15 public hearing. A work session on the proposal has not yet been scheduled.