FARMINGTON – San Juan College is moving forward with plans to build student housing on campus, a talked-about project for more than 10 years.
The college recently secured a loan of just over $14 million from the New Mexico Finance Authority to construct a 150-bed facility on the northwest corner of campus, said Edward DesPlas, executive vice president at SJC. The New Mexico Higher Education Department approved the financing and design of the building last month.
“The college has been interested in student housing for more than 12 years,” DesPlas said.
The first feasibility study was done in 2008, then again in 2013, 2015 and another in 2018, he said. The college came close to signing an agreement in 2019 with a developer and project owner for a 376-bed facility, but after encountering a series of obstacles, they decided to dissolve the relationship.
The college decided to move forward on its own and downsize plans to a smaller facility. Currently, SJC plans to break ground on the building in December and open in August 2022. The facility will be located between the Health and Human Performance building, the Pinyon Hills Golf Course and Sunrise Parkway.
Through the multiple feasibility studies, DesPlas said the college became convinced there was a high need among students for housing. He said the housing market in Farmington is difficult for students to navigate, with limited rental options near the college and very few well-maintained studio or small apartment options in desirable areas.
DesPlas said it can be crucial for rural colleges to offer student housing. The college estimates that of its nearly 8,000 enrolled students each semester, about 1,100 of them travel up to 90 minutes one way to attend classes.
“Lack of reliable transportation is an obstacle for many students,” DesPlas said. “Some of the students are one vehicle breakdown from having to withdraw from classes.”
He added studies have found students who live on campus persist in their education, complete course loads at higher rates, attain higher GPAs and engage more with the college than commuter students.
By constructing student housing, the college has said it could accommodate more remote Four Corners students and potentially increase enrollments with the draw of an on-campus housing option.
A 2020 poll by the American Association of Community Colleges, found about 25% of community colleges offer their students on-campus housing. The association found the number has risen since 2000.
SJC’s neighbor to the north also offers student housing. Fort Lewis College has six residence halls and two apartment complexes available for students.
DesPlas said while there has been community interest and talks about SJC becoming a four-year institution, the plans to build student housing are not linked. They are two separate issues, he said.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the timeline for on-campus housing has not changed, according to the college. DesPlas said if he was opening housing right now, he might be concerned, but the students at SJC will need housing in 2022.
“While the world is upside down right now, we will find a way to get it right side up,” he said. “It’ll be different, but we’ll all find our way.”