In an effort to improve the off-campus first-year university experience, McMaster Housing and Conference Services introduced the optional Commuter in Residence Experience program in 2017. But the program did not launch without its hiccups.
“CoRE grew out of the recognition that first-year off-campus students have unique needs, and commonly struggle to make the same connections to the campus as their counterparts in residence,” said Simon Wilmot, Residence Life coordinator.
To sign up for the program, students must pay a $325 registration fee. Some benefits of CoRE include the opportunity to participate in residence Welcome Week activities, access extra study spaces and consult with off-campus Community Advisors.
CoRE students can also join on-campus communities, attend events, access residence academic centres that provide free drop-in tutoring services and organize community events through the Community Activity Fund.
In spite of these benefits, the program has not been in high demand from first-year off-campus students, with only 20 registering for CoRE in 2017. Although 11 CAs were initially hired, this number was reduced to three due to the lack of student interest.
“As this was a new program our marketing came out late in the admissions cycle and unfortunately did not resonate with incoming students.”
Wilmot believes that CoRE did not attract a sufficiently high number of off-campus students because of the high cost and lack of advertising for the program.
“As this was a new program our marketing came out late in the admissions cycle and unfortunately did not resonate with incoming students,” said Wilmot. “We also believe that the initial cost of the program was a barrier to participation for many students.”
A former Society of Off-Campus Students representative, however, believes that CoRE’s low demand stems from the fact that most first-year off-campus students were not consulted in the development of the program.
“[CoRE] first years were isolated from Welcome Week events and only interacted with their CAs and not at all with the SOCS reps,” they said.
To improve the program, the SOCS representative suggests that HCS schedule events at accessible times as off-campus first-years tend to miss concerts, for instance, because the last Go bus leaves campus at 10:45 p.m.
The rep also recommends increasing outreach to off-campus students from the university.
“The outreach to first-year off-campus students from the university is non-existent,” they said. “Whereas residence students get emails from Residence Life, off-campus [students] don’t get that because of the privacy act, so we cannot gain the emails of first years to let them know the schedule before Welcome Week.”
To ignite more interest from first-year off-campus students, Wilmot will be working to rebrand the 2018 CoRE program. HCS will specifically be connecting the CoRE program to Living and Learning Communities, which bring together like-minded students in residences at the university.
“We hope to connect off-campus students with these communities and provide them with access to exclusive LLC programming and resources,” said Wilmot.
HCS is also plans to lower the program fee.
“We are also reducing the program fee from over $300 in 2017 to less than half of that in 2018,” said Wilmot. “We are still working on some of the details, but our intention is to dramatically reduce the cost of the program.”
Wilmot’s objective is to recruit over a hundred students to the program in 2018 and then double that the following year.
As the university takes steps to rebrand and lower the cost of the program, HSC will need to ensure the needs of CoRE students, reps and off-campus first-years’ voices are met. Jennifer Kleven, who leads the CoRE program at HCS, is open to hearing feedback from students and reps.