The Department of Resident Life's efforts to increase Leonardtown housing selections appear to have been successful, with 567 returning students assigned to the Leonardtown Community for next fall — 175 more than in fall 2015.
A low number of requests for the apartment-style housing this past fall forced the department to house about 125 freshmen in the community, leading Resident Life to seek more sophomore, junior and senior assignments in Leonardtown for the upcoming academic year. The number of assignments next fall will more closely match past years after an uncharacteristic drop this past fall.
Resident Life generally tries to place University of Maryland freshmen and other first-year students on North Campus, where the hall-style dorms make it easier to meet new people, said Scott Young, associate director of business services for the department.
"The ease at which they can meet a large swath of people is the main reason," said Genevieve Conway, the community director of the Leonardtown and North Hill communities. "It just organically happens more easily than in an apartment setting. When you add two doors to a person, having them come out and interact requires that much more effort."
There was some concern going into the year that housing a high number of first-year residents in the apartments might lead to behavioral issues, she said, but with the semester coming to a close, those fears failed to materialize.
Instead, Leonardtown Community leaders have noticed increased participation in community development programs this year, Conway said.
"For the most part, students aren't coming in with a large friend base, so they're looking for that when they come here," Conway said. "They really have to put themselves out there to meet people and come to programs."
In March, Resident Life hosted its first Explore Leonardtown Livin' event to help market the community to returning students. The event, which raffled off a free semester of housing, drew about 130 students to the area.
The department also adjusted the housing selection rules to allow easier access to Leonardtown, Young said. One problem the department encountered in previous years was fitting odd-numbered groups into the apartments, which support either four or six residents.
"Students in the past were preferencing Leonardtown, but wouldn't get it because they didn't have the proper number of students for the space," Young said. "One of the things we made happen this year was if students were requesting Leonardtown, they would get placed in Leonardtown, even if they didn't necessarily have the spaces."
Young said he believes the high number of freshmen assigned to the area this year was a major contributor to the increase in assignments for next fall.
"In previous years, we didn't have a lot of first-year students assigned to the area," Young said. "So my thinking goes that after living in Leonardtown and seeing what it has to offer, many of those students wanted to return there, but I still have to go through the data to confirm."
For Sara Kettler, a current Leonardtown resident, the on-campus apartments are the golden mean between dorm life and off-campus residency.
A Freshmen Connection student during her first semester at this university, the sophomore community health major has experienced almost every type of housing the university has to offer — commuting, residing in a traditional dorm in Denton Hall and now living in Leonardtown.
"It's definitely got the independence feel in the sense that you're kind of doing things for yourself," Kettler said. "In a dorm, you're relying on the dining food and people still like to go home a lot."
But the added responsibility might not be the best thing for first-year students who haven't had a chance to live on their own, Kettler said.
"If it came to a preference, I would probably choose dorm life first. It seems like a good stepping-stone before reaching an apartment-style," she said. "But if it's either an apartment or you're not living on campus, then I would 100 percent pick an apartment, just to get the on-campus feel."