When Carissa Plascencia first decided to attend West Hills College Coalinga, the Mendota native had a choice to make: live at home while in school, get an apartment in Coalinga or find another solution? Taking stock of her options, she went with an unexpected choice for a local student: living in the on campus dorms at WHCC.
One of just a few community colleges in the state to offer students the option of on campus living, WHCC features two residential buildings for students.
“I’m an athlete and I just decided I didn’t want to make the drive back and forth to Mendota, especially after a long day,” Plascencia said. “It felt easier to live here and I’ve ended up having an amazing experience. It’s been a great time saver and reduces my stress.”
However, while Carissa was confident in her decision to live in the dorms, her parents were somewhat doubtful.
“I guess because it was her first time away from home, at first I said I would drive her to school every day,” said Emma Plascencia, Carissa’s mother. “I finally came around because it was time to let go. I was thankful that she never gave me a hard time about it. She just said this is what I want to do and I want to stay over there. Now, I’ve shared with other parents that for me I feel the kids are a lot safer in the dorms. It’s like a family, a dorm family.”
Part of what convinced Emma—a West Hills alumna herself— was the dorm staff, two of which live on site.
“For a lot of parents, they are not sure what the living arrangements and experience will be like,” said Alex Villalobos, Director of Residential Living & Student Activities “But if they come tour they know we have staff members that are here 24/7 and ready to address concerns. We’re going to take care of their children. The way we view it is that they’re joining out family and are an extension of our family. We take care of them. We tell them go to class. Get tutoring. Our priority is student success. We want to make sure they can move on and parents find that reassuring.”
Dorm living, according to Villalobos, offers many amenities for students including a computer lab that’s open 24 hours a day, the ability to print 200 pages free per semester and weekly social activities organized by the dorm’s resident assistants, of which Carissa Plascencia is now one.
“Even for a student that lives nearby, living on campus is that stepping stone that gets you ready for what to expect when you go to a four year school,” said Villalobos. “It makes the transition less difficult and allows for a true college experience.”
For Plascencia, a WHCC volleyball player, the dorm has allowed her to make friends, gain a measure of independence, focus on her studies and get a taste of college living.
“I would recommend that even if you’re local, you think about living in the dorms,” she said. “Because I live on campus it’s been much easier to be in three different clubs. I couldn’t have been in anything if I had to drive back and forth from home. It’s also made it easier to focus on school without distractions and to play volleyball.”
Dorm life was also good to Antonio Aguilar. A West Hills College Coalinga alumnus now attending California State University, East Bay, he moved from Avenal into the dorms in 2015.
“Even though Avenal is so close to Coalinga and I could have commuted, I wanted to have my own freedom and make my own decisions,” Agular said. “It ended up helping me to focus on school. How the living situation in the dorm is that you have a group of people you get close to and the reason why I like it there is everyone keeps you on track. Even if it’s just as simple as asking if you’ve done your homework, I got constant reminders throughout the day.”
Aguilar became a resident’s assistant in 2016 and is now working in the dorms at CSU East Bay with the hope of becoming an RA there.
He said living in the dorms made him more comfortable when it came time to transfer and helped him develop life and leadership skills.
“The dorms help you to become an adult,” he said. “You have housing and are on campus but you can also find a job and start building your resume and life skills. It’s a great opportunity.”
Financial aid is available to pay for the cost of living in the dorms and dorm living also comes with a meal plan for the on campus WHCC café.