More Students Choosing Home

April 13, 2005 | By Devlin Sinead

On a not-so-special Friday afternoon before a not-so-special weekend, first year Tiffany Palm packs for home. Grabbing her toothpaste, pajamas and work clothes, she counts down the hours until she’ll see her boyfriend.

Most of her homework will wait until she returns Sunday night since it requires the use of her computer. If she had a laptop, however, she would pack it as well and remain off campus until 8 a.m. Monday.

“I have two jobs at home that require weekends,” says Palm. “And my boyfriend is my best friend.”

Beyond the anecdotes of Palm and others, a half-empty Tri-dorms parking lot provides physical evidence that many students venture beyond Ripon College come the weekend. But just how much of a suitcase campus Ripon has become catches opposite reactions among under and upper classmen.

First year and sophomore students generally don’t view Ripon as a suitcase college. They cite only occasional trips home and seem to welcome the weekend social scene on campus.

But for senior Chris Elgersma, there has definitely been a change in the weekend social atmosphere compared to his underclassmen years.

“The way it seems is more people are going home on the weekend,” he says, also noting that socialization in settings like the Quads has declined steadily since he was a first year. “[During] my first year I could go down to the Quads at any point in the evening, any night of the week, and in any one of the buildings there would be people out and about, and now I don’t really get that.”

Sophomore Adam Ronchetti, a resident of Bovay Hall, says many of students who live in the Quads go home on the weekends, which contributes vastly to the emptiness apparent in what may be the largest social setting on campus.

Why Students Leave

There are a number of explanations for what some students describe as a drastic change in the weekend atmosphere on campus.

One recurring trend is that compared to four and five years ago students are choosing campuses that are closer to their hometowns.

According to a national survey of first year students conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, in 2000 49.9% of students lived 100 miles or less from campus, 33.3% lived between 100 and 500 miles and 17.3% lived over 500 miles from campus. But by 2002, students living within 100 miles of campus rose to 53.3%, students from 100 to 500 miles away remained about the same at 32.7% and students from over 500 miles away dropped to 12.8%.

Ripon statistics seem to mirror this trend.

In last fall’s incoming class 57.4% of students lived less than 100 miles away. The number of students from over 500 miles was 8.2%.

The percentage drop of students willing to travel over 500 miles to Ripon College could in part be due to the cutting of a program which flew students from far states like California and Colorado to Ripon in order for them to get a feel of the campus.

Besides the trend of students living closer to their hometowns, over the last two years a strong presence of what is known as the millennial student has developed.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the authors of the book “Millennials Go to College,” Neil Howe, an economic policy consultant and William Strauss, director of a Washington-based satirical theatre troupe, say this new generation of students does not fit into the stereotypes of Generation X.

Instead, they are focused on grades and performance, are busy with extracurricular activities and are above all very close with their parents. Howe refers to these parents as helicopter parents because they are always hovering.

These students also are part of the lowest parent to child ratio in United States history, creating a home environment that intensifies and strengthens children’s dependency on their parents and their desire to have that constant, familiar, personal contact.

But despite evidence that more students are going to colleges closer to their homes, there are other students who chose to come to Ripon despite, or even because of the fact that they are so far away from home.

“By coming here some people choose whether or not they have the ability to go home,” says senior Thayne deBest of Colorado. “I do not have that choice, and that’s ok by me.”

Physical Plant Department Secretary and Technician Judy Jackowski remembers a time when students like deBest were not so few and far between.

“I used to check in UPS packages when school started,” she says. “There’d be 20 boxes for some students from the east or west coast. Now I get very few, so you know they have to be driving here.”

Students may therefore be choosing to attend Ripon College because of its convenient location, making it easier to drive home for the weekend. But not all students go home simply to see family. Many students, like Palm, have jobs at home.

“It is difficult to find a good job off-campus, and the pay on-campus sucks,” says Palm. “I’m not going to work for minimum wage when I can go home and work as a bartender for seven dollars an hour plus tips.”

Policy changes with regard to disciplinary action at Ripon College also have the potential to deter students from staying on campus all weekend.

“Last year [the alcohol offense policy] was that you could get three [offenses] a year,” says Ronchetti. “Now it’s [three cumulative], so you can either go home and get silly, or stay here and risk getting busted.”

Others site the amount of students with cars on campus as another possible reason as to why students may be going home on the weekends, simply because they have the means to do so.

But Jackowski believes that the number of cars on campus has stayed consistent throughout the majority of her 25 years of service with the plant department. She says the department sells about the same amount of parking passes each year.

The Effect

Elgersma believes traveling off campus on a regular basis is detrimental to students’ growth.

“The only way you get a full college experience is to live on the campus,” he says.

Dean of Students Chris Ogle concurs.

“For the best experience of a residential arts college it is best for students to be here seven days a week,” he says.

He goes onto say that the advantages students’ receive for remaining on campus during weekends includes learning a lot, developing lifelong friends and becoming connected in a lot of ways.

“I’m a staunch believer that a college education is very dependent on how you’re going to grow as a person and what kind of life skills you’re going to develop outside of the classroom,” Ogle says.

Even after cutting the program that flew students from other states to Ripon, administrators still maintain an important aspiration of Ripon College is to achieve a diversity of students, including as it relates to where students are coming from.

Much of Ripon’s draw over the last 25 years, according to Ogle, has been the fact that it attracts as many students from far and wide as it does. But there’s concern that there is little motivation for out-of-state students to attend a residential college like Ripon if most students are regional and head home on the weekends.

According to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, suitcase campuses are those that are regional, meaning the vast majority of students live within 100 miles of campus.

Though Ogle says he doesn’t think Ripon has gotten to this point, he says “it’s something we need to pay attention to.”