SOUTH PORTLAND — Southern Maine Community College announced July 9 that its housing damage deposit had been lowered from $250 to $100.

The decision to lower the deposit was made after a multiyear analysis of damages incurred by residents.

“We found that most students don’t incur any damages,” Dean of Student Life Tiffanie Bentley said. “For those who do, the damage is usually under $100.”

She said Residents Life at SMCC hopes that lowering the fee will allow more students to apply for housing.

“One of our goals is and always has been to make access to the college as barrier-free as possible,” she said.

Southern Maine Community College is a public, two-year institution. For Maine residents, full-time tuition is $2,820 per semester.

“Because of our low tuition, we enroll a disproportionate number of students who face challenges affecting the greater Portland area, such as housing and food insecurity,” Bentley said.

Director of Residents Life and Student Involvement Phil Saucier said that housing can be a barrier to a student’s ability to attend college.

“It’s hard to focus on learning when you’re busy looking for the next place you’re going to sleep, or your next meal,” he said. “If students have access to housing, then they have security, as well as access to resources such as their residential assistant.”

Clarke Canfield, director of communications, said that two major roles in promoting student success are to remove barriers to enrolling, and to help students persist in their classes once enrolled.

“Lowering the housing deposit will remove a barrier to living on campus,” Canfield said. He added that “may also increase retention of returning students.”

A study put out by Complete College America, an organization that collects national data on post-secondary completion rates, analyzes certificate and degree program completion rate in relation to the number of credits a student enrolls in each year.

They reported that students who complete 30 credits a year are more likely to graduate with credentials than students who complete fewer than 30, showing a relationship between enrollment intensity and completion.

“For students who work on top of taking classes, taking 15 credits a semester may not be realistic,” Bentley said.

An alternative is a 12-12-6 model, in which a student takes full-time courses during the fall and spring semesters and two courses in the summer. The college is considering offering free housing during the summer term to students who enroll in six or more credits.

“Currently, we’re discussing it at the executive level,” Bentley said. “It could be in place as early as summer 2020.”

Summer housing costs about $2,000.

“For those students who can’t take 15 credits a semester, this would allow them to graduate faster, and with less debt,” Bentley said. “For those who can take 15, this would allow them to get ahead.”

Evelyn Waugh can be reached at [email protected].

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