Holly Katko is a first semester sophomore who is completely swamped with finals and projects just like her classmates.
But you will not catch Katko on the seventh floor of Seneca Hall, her dorm last year, with the rest of the sophomores. She’s opted to live off campus, against Residence Life and Housing policy for underclassmen.
"When I went to ask Res Life if it was possible, people told me ‘just say you’re commuting,’" Katko said. "I know I could have got away with it, but I didn’t go that route anyway."
Although it does not happen too often, director of Residence Life and Housing Rick Kolenda said students are currently off-campus illegally.
"Sometimes this comes to our attention," Kolenda said. "We handle it just like any other policy issue."
Freshmen and sophomores are allowed to commute if they live within a 75-mile radius of Oswego— a distance that covers Watertown, Rochester, Syracuse and even stretches into Cortland. Though, if someone were to commute from that far away, they would be required to set up a plan with Res Life. This means Res Life would periodically check a student’s odometer or bus ticket receipts regularly to ensure they are not cheating the system.
Katko is not living off-campus illegally, though. She obtained a note from her therapist saying she could not focus or study on campus, and that her dietary needs were not being met because she is a vegetarian. But, she said the process for filing to live off-campus was fairly easy.
"Rick Kolenda asked me a few questions to make sure I wasn’t living off-campus just because it would be a good time," Katko said. "He basically just asked if there was anything they could do to make the experience better."
Kolenda said he makes sure that students are not doing it for the wrong reasons.
"We know that students who live off campus are less engaged," Kolenda said. "As a group, their GPAs are lower and they are more likely not to complete their school if they live off-campus."
Res Life receives a number of applications on average— sometimes as high as 30 to 40 a year, Kolenda said— but exemptions are few. In order to file a request for exemption from the college housing policy, a student needs to justify his or her reason in one of six categories; these fall under commuting, marriage, financial, medical, diet or personal classifications. Although, as Kolenda said, the college rarely approves a personal request.
"There has to be some psychological reasons, which would have to be verified, with a lot of recommending and consultation from professionals," Kolenda said.
Matthew Harmer, director of community relations for Oswego State’s Student Association, said he has not personally heard of any specific cases, but only knows it is happening.
"It’s my policy to try to discourage students from doing it," Harmer said. "It’s our policy at S.A. that college policy shouldn’t be abused just to live off campus."
Harmer said the main reason he discourages students from bolting off campus is to help maturity and growth, and to help transition them to college life.
His philosophy mirrors Kolenda’s, who said the college has the policy in place for the benefit of the student. He stated that on average, freshmen and sophomores who stay on campus for both years are more engaged in clubs, develop better study habits and generally have higher GPAs.
"I know they do that, and in the long run, they are short-changing themselves," Kolenda said.
Katko said her off-campus experience has been positive thus far.
It has helped her organize and focus on school, something she was not able to do last year with students running up and down the halls banging on doors at 3 a.m. on some nights, especially finals week.
She also said the food is better. Now, she can eat at any time of day instead of whenever the dining halls close.
But, living off does come with some of the downfalls that Kolenda warned her about, as well.
"I do miss the socialization of the dorms sometimes," Katko said. "Living off-campus, it can be less sociable because you don’t have as many people around you."
Beyond the social aspect, however, there are other reasons for underclassmen to stay on campus. Judicial reasons.
"If a student fills out this paper and says they are going to be living at home and don’t, basically, they are falsifying a college record," Kolenda said. "If detected they are not living at home, they can be brought up on disciplinary charges."
In essence, forging or falsifying documents to the college is just like any institution, and that student would be held responsible. Kolenda said he did not think it has ever resulted in expulsion, but in the past, students have been ordered to move on-campus.
It can also result in a disconnect between the student and the college. Official documents and papers the student may need are then sent home to the permanent address instead of the temporary off-campus one. This means the college cannot contact the student, because the only address they would have is the permanent one.
Atom Avery, owner of Avery Rental Properties in Oswego, said his current tenants are all juniors and seniors, but he has dealt with sophomores on rare occasions.
"I have had second semester commuters and parents looking for a place to rent for six months because of the bad winter weather," said Avery.
But, Katko can see the benefits of moving off-campus and does not believe underclassmen should be restricted to the college dorms.
"If it’s more for the benefit of doing well in school, then I don’t see a problem," said Katko.