EL DORADO -- South Arkansas Community College has brought in consultants to evaluate the viability of creating student housing.
Officials with The Scion Group -- a student housing consulting firm -- made their first visits to campus last month, interviewing students and faculty members, and hosting focus groups.
The consultants will conduct quantitative analysis, such as potential housing costs, as well as qualitative analysis, observing how student housing would affect the college.
Derek Moore, the college's vice president of student services, said initial feedback will be immediate, with more detailed analysis coming in the future. Consultants will make two more visits to the campus at times not yet determined.
He emphasized that the process is still in preliminary stages, and the college will need to take multiple factors into consideration when determining if and how to move forward.
"If it's feasible -- which itself isn't a guarantee we will do it -- it would be key to student recruitment and student success, which are two main things we look at. We have to look at financial risks as well, though, and take all those factors into account," Moore said.
Student housing is relatively new at Arkansas' 22 community colleges. In 2017, state legislators repealed Arkansas Code § 6-61-522(a), which had banned student housing on community college campuses.
Residence halls have opened at National Park Community College in Hot Springs, Arkansas State University-Beebe, Southern Arkansas University Tech in Camden and the University of Arkansas Community College at Rich Mountain.
Northwest Arkansas Community College, the state's largest two-year school, has considered student housing for several years. In response to interest in student housing from some members of the board of trustees, college officials requested a study from Ohio-based Vogt Strategic Insights. The firm, in 2020, recommended that the college build student housing with 60 one-bedroom units, each of which could house two people, and include full bathrooms and kitchens.
At South Arkansas Community College, an internal advisory team working alongside Scion will eventually compile and present information to college President Bentley Wallace, Moore said. Wallace will then share the information with the college's board of trustees, who will "offer guidance" concerning how to move forward.
During their first visit, the Scion consultants hosted focus groups of students and separate ones for faculty members. They also walked around campus and spoke randomly with students to discuss housing, according to Heath Waldrop, the college's director of marketing and public relations.
Kendall McClendon, a student who serves as a student ambassador, joined four fellow ambassadors for one of the focus groups with the consultants.
She said supports having student housing on campus. Now, she commutes 1½ hours each way to attend the community college.
McClendon said she used the focus group as an opportunity to speak for commuting students, while also using her experience as a school ambassador to speak about the needs of prospective students.
"I think it's good they listened to people who will actually be living in the housing. ... They asked us about living situations and what we'd feel comfortable with, along with bathroom situations, and things like kitchens and living centers.
"We gave them our viewpoint on what we would prefer and what other students might prefer, as well. We also talked about what students we would want to target living in dorms. We said it should be offered to out-of-state and commuting students," McClendon said.
As a student ambassador, McClendon said she spends a lot of time hosting campus tours, attending college fairs, and meeting with prospective students and their families.
She said housing could be key to attracting students to campus, particularly among youths just graduating from high school.
"Dorms are a major thing people look into, so I feel like there should be options."
"Having access to a bed to sleep in five minutes away is appealing for students," she said.
CORRECTION: Arkansas State University-Beebe held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of two residential halls in August 2011. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the time period in which the Beebe campus opened its residential halls.