Grebel takes the risk for its students

Monday, September 20, 2010

Conrad Grebel University College has long tried to keep a blend of first year and returning upper year students in its residence program, but this year, the balancing act became more complicated when the University of Waterloo insisted Grebel reserve 100% of its residence beds for first year students.

Grebel said no.

Mary Brubaker-Zehr, Grebel’s Director of Student Services, says:

This was not who we are. Grebel would not be Grebel without a strong contingent of senior students who enhance and impact in profound ways the quality of residence life.

At the same time, Brubaker-Zehr had concerns. She brought the matter before Grebel’s Board of Directors, concerned that if Grebel was no longer promoted under the housing guarantee, the college might suffer from lower applications. Despite this risk, the Board of Govornor supported the decision to stay true to the college’s long-time identity of having 50% first year students and 50% upper year students along with a variety of programs, ethnic and faith backgrounds. 

As usual, Grebel was promoted through the university viewbook and University of Waterloo marketing website, but not through the “Guaranteed Housing” website where students choose their housing options. Grebel’s recruitment team headed by Meg Bauman visited various churches and high schools in the area and across Canada and the USA.  The college also trusted that word-of-mouth would continue to be an effective recruiting tool along with its website, promotional material and on-campus recruitment events.

In the end, Grebel received virtually the same number of applicants as other years - far more than they could ever accommodate in its residence. On move-in day, Grebel opened its doors to a blend that included 56% first year students.

Brubaker-Zehr says current literature about academic success for students supports the college’s decision to remain a multi-year residence.  The recently-published Achieving Student Success:  Effective Student Services in Canadian Higher Education demonstrates that the longer a student stays in residence, the better chance that student has of being academically successful. It also makes a strong case for the impact of students engaging outside classroom on their retention rates and academic success.

Mary Brubaker-Zehr says:

This is something we have always emphasized when we interview students for a place in residence. Grebel is not just a place to eat, drink and sleep – but a place to engage, to balance study and play, to use gifts. The role modeling that upper years provide is so valuable for younger students.

An upper-year student Ben White says,

I spent my third year in the Grebel apartments and have come back to residence for my fourth year because I realized how vital it is that we as individuals serve others in whatever way we can. Living in a community-oriented setting like Grebel's residence is a catalyst for serving others and allows me to better serve other people and learn from them.

We are grateful that our residence is as full as ever with a terrific blend of students and we are looking forward to an exciting new year,

says Brubaker-Zehr.

By Susan Fish

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