NEXT WEEK, as students return to University of Massachusetts Boston, a number of them will do something no one has done in the school’s history:
Live on campus.
For the first 53 years of its history, UMass Boston students commuted to campus by bus, T, or car.
This year that will change. Approximately 1,000 students — roughly 40 percent of the entering freshman class — will live in residence halls on campus. They will enjoy a stunning cafeteria, the company of a professor in residence, and the benefits of social and academic programming.
They will also be part of UMass Boston’s largest and most diverse freshman class and that is no coincidence. Almost half of the students who will live on campus received a merit-based scholarship. The university committed $1.4 million in grant aid to ensure that students from low-income households have the same opportunity to live on campus as more affluent peers. The new residence halls will therefore bring students together across the lines of race, family income, and educational background to create the kind of pluralistic microcosm that universities around the country attempt to model.
Boston is booming and so are its rents. Providing an affordable housing option on campus helps students manage the expense of a university education while enabling them to take advantage of an opportunity for engagement that students at most colleges take for granted. Extensive research has shown that living on campus increases persistence rates, graduation rates, and academic performance. As such, an investment in housing is also an investment in student success.
And students aren’t the only ones who benefit from these amenities – so, too, will our capital city and our Commonwealth. Two thirds of UMass graduates remain in this state to fuel its prosperity. They play an outsized role in our burgeoning innovation sectors, from finance and technology to healthcare and education. Student housing not only makes UMass Boston more accessible to diverse and talented students outside the commuting range of Columbia Point, it helps ensure we can keep them in Boston when they graduate. Furthermore, providing housing for 1,000 UMass Boston students relieves pressure on the rental markets in Dorchester and South Boston, benefitting families in those neighborhoods.
In recent months, there’s been no shortage of debate about the ability of the University of Massachusetts to deliver on the mission of providing social and economic mobility to students, given the increasingly challenging environment facing public universities today. To be sure, on-campus housing is just one step. From new and improved infrastructure to more academic and experiential learning opportunities for students, there is much more to come.
But this is an important and transformational moment, for our university system, for the future of urban education in Boston and—most important of all—for the hardworking students who are the future of our workforce and community. The result of years of hard work and planning, the advent of student housing at UMass Boston is a triumph for the university community, the Baker-Polito administration, the Legislature, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, all of whom deserve our thanks for propelling Boston’s public research university to the next level.
Marty Meehan is president of the University of Massachusetts and Katherine Newman is interim chancellor of UMass Boston.