St. Joseph’s College is planning a $30 million project that would create the first student housing on its Patchogue campus, aiming to increase enrollment at a time when private colleges are in a competitive race for students.
The private, traditionally Catholic college expects to formally apply in January to officials in the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Patchogue for approval to build a 300-bed residence hall on a former 2.76-acre athletic field, south of Sunrise Highway and west of Patchogue Lake.
The plan is the first capital project since St. Joseph’s President Jack Calareso succeeded the college’s longtime leader, Sister Elizabeth Hill, who retired in the summer of 2014.
“Every year, we have thousands of students who want to come here for our programs, and then they find out we don’t have a residence hall,” said Calareso, the first lay person to lead the school, which was founded in Brooklyn in 1916. “Our decision isn’t just to build a building, but to increase the residential population at the college.”
St. Joseph’s has gotten some interest from students in India and the Middle East, but without housing, recruiting them is not possible, he said.
The move comes at a time when Long Island’s private colleges are vying for a smaller pool of applicants locally and are expanding their regional and international marketing.
Like many colleges across the nation, St. Joseph’s has grappled with dipping enrollment, high operational costs, less public funding and weak fundraising. Experts on higher education also have pointed to a decline in the number of high school graduates in the Northeast as a troublesome trend that is expected to continue for the next decade.
Moody’s Investor Services in February 2014 downgraded St. Joseph’s debt rating to just above junk bonds. Between fall 2010 and 2013, the college’s enrollment dropped more than 9 percent, according to that Moody’s report.
The credit-rating agency has been particularly vigilant about smaller, private, liberal arts colleges. Dowling College in Oakdale and LIU Post in Brookville also have seen their bond ratings downgraded in recent years.
Calareso said he hopes to expand enrollment on the Patchogue campus to 4,500 over the next five years. The current enrollment is 3,537, officials said. The Patchogue campus opened in 1978.
Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said the plan’s impact on local residents would be “negligible at best.”
The college would pay to hook into an existing village sewer line located about 1,000 feet from the campus, he said.
“For us, the expansion of St. Joseph’s is a good thing,” Pontieri said.
Kevin Molloy, spokesman for the Town of Brookhaven, said Supervisor Edward Romaine could not comment because an application seeking approval for the project has not been filed.
The residence hall would include dining services, a recreation center, technology and meeting spaces, and laundry facilities, “among other amenities conducive to successful learning outcomes and a positive on-campus student life experience,” college officials said. About 200 parking spaces also would be created as part of the project.
The building would be on the former athletic field, which is adjacent to O’Connor Hall, the campus’ main building. For about two years, the college’s teams have used a new complex about a mile away.
The college has partnered with Mosaic Capital Group, based in Orlando, Florida, to fund the project. The investment firm will cover the cost of construction and operation of the facilities for 20 years, Calareso said.
St. Joseph’s did not release the terms of its contract with the firm. Such arrangements are becoming more common on college campuses across the country as a way to create a revenue stream without having to use money from the school’s budget.
“It is a way of using someone else’s resources to expand the campus,” Calareso said.
John Morrison, vice president of business development for Mosaic Capital, said the company was not ready to comment.
In October, St. Joseph’s had about 360 freshman students enrolled for the 2015-16 academic year. The school — best-known for its teacher education and accounting and business majors — received 1,583 applications for those spots, officials said.
Student campus housing has been shown to favorably affect enrollment at Long Island colleges.
Molloy College in Rockville Centre, also a private Catholic college, saw gains after its first dorm opened in 2011. Enrollment jumped 3,175 in 2010 to 3,414 in 2011, Molloy officials said.
New York Institute of Technology is hoping for the same at its Old Westbury campus. The school has a 700-bed student housing proposal that is pending approval from the villages of Old Westbury and Brookville.
Scott Carlson, senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, who has covered facilities and small college management nationally, said student housing could provide the school with some new revenue, but may not increase enrollment. He also said it helps connect students — even those who commute — which aids retention.
“If the college thinks that living expenses in the area are too high and they are building the dorms to make living on or around campus more affordable, that could be a good plan,” Carlson said. “But if they are building the beds hoping the kids are going to show up, or to make the school more attractive, that might not work.”
St. Joseph’s has 1,212 students at its campus in downtown Brooklyn this school year. About 100 of them live in housing that is shared with students from other city colleges. Calareso said school officials are discussing the feasibility of a project there.