- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - Before he ever set foot on the Northern Illinois University campus, freshman Angelo Gonzalez knew he would spend every other weekend with his family and friends in Chicago.

It’s not that he doesn’t have friends or connections to the campus in DeKalb, an hour jaunt from his home. Going home every other weekend was just the way he planned to spend his time in college.

“I go home to be with family,” said Gonzalez, 18. “I’m like the man of the household, so I have to take care of a few things.”

A study NIU officials conducted earlier this year shows that Gonzalez is pretty similar to many of his freshman peers. Based on a sample of 250 freshman and first-year transfer students, nearly 72 percent said they intended to leave campus at least once a month.

Close to 82 percent of the students said they go home on the weekends to see family and friends, which presents an interesting challenge to NIU leaders who are trying to strengthen students’ bonds to campus, regardless of the day of the week.

Brian Lance is the director of planning and assessment for NIU, the department that completed and issued the Weekend Behavior Survey early this year. He said part of the point was to investigate the longstanding belief that NIU is a “suitcase school,” one where students come with a suitcase on Monday and leave on Friday.

While the study didn’t confirm one way or the other whether NIU’s reputation fits, he said it did give interesting insight about how the college’s proximity to many students’ homes affects what they do Friday through Sunday. About 30 percent of the students included in the study said NIU’s location was very important to their decision to enroll there.

“They predetermined they were going home,” Lance said. “That’s what they were going to do, and that’s what their college experience was going to be.”

About 66 percent of students actually leave at least once a month, which is about 6 percentage points less than the 72 percent of students who started college expecting to go home at least once a month. Most go home to visit friends and family, but other reasons for leaving campus include work, going to Chicago or visiting friends on other campuses.

Close to 7 percent of students surveyed said they were frustrated by the lack of things to do on the weekend, with several of them using variations of “boring” to describe what campus is like on the weekends.

Boring is a fitting word for DeKalb, said Archie Darrough, a junior at NIU who ventures from his DeKalb apartment to his mom’s home in Lansing about twice a month. He makes the trek because he knows he can make quick money in Lansing by working odd jobs, although he has a job at DeKalb’s Nestle plant.

Darrough, 22, also wants to check in on his mom and grandma. Even if he didn’t want a little extra cash or his mom’s home cooking, he said DeKalb wouldn’t be a place he’d really think of staying.

“There’s no concerts on the weekend, especially in the winter,” Darrough said. “You can get it in the city. You can’t get it in DeKalb.”

That’s where NIU Director of Communications and Marking Brad Hoey and the new effort, “[email protected]” come in. The university launched a website that serves as the central point for all campus happenings.

“It really gets down to how do we enhance the experience for NIU students,” Hoey said. “It’s more than NIU football.”

NIU leaders also want students to stay so they will venture into DeKalb, which Hoey said will build the cool college town atmosphere that city and university leaders have publicly pined for.

Although a couple of the businesses that could pull students downtown have left or will leave next year. Otto’s closed in January after city staff deemed it unsafe and condemned the building. Down the block, Moxie owner Megan Morrison announced she will close her shop by the middle of next year.

Lance said while university leaders can try to tout more weekend activities, they also need to promote weekday activities for students who intend to go home on the weekends.

“It’s not like we can create more activities that bring in family and friends,” Lance said. “We can try, but there’s only so many things we can control.”

Being involved in more weekday activities moved 19-year-old sophomore Kailynn Holloway out of the frequent leaver category.

She said in the beginning of her freshman year she was homesick, which meant she went home to Chicago pretty frequently. But over the past year she made friends, got involved in volleyball and started frequenting Greek events. Now, she plans to go home for major holidays.

She said the key to her change was getting out of her dorm room.

“Go have fun,” Holloway said. “You’ll figure yourself out.”

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Source: The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle, https://bit.ly/1ypij5u

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Information from: The Daily Chronicle, https://www.daily-chronicle.com

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