Faith-based dorms are opening this year at secular colleges across the country to meet the needs of students who aren't into partying and want to share campus life with other students who believe as they do.
"I like the Christian feel of it," Justice Gray, an incoming freshman at Troy University in Alabama, told The Wall Street Journal.
"We're like a family."
The Troy Foundation this year opened a 376-bed residential unit called the Newman Center, which is open to all faiths, at a cost of about $11.8 million. The space, leased by the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, features a small chapel and communal area for Bible studies. The center forbids alcohol, even for students of legal drinking age.
The Newman Center is one of several such facilities being opened by Catholic ministries. Other schools where faith-based dorms are being established include the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne; Texas A&M University at Kingsville, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Purdue University also is considering one of the special-housing units.
Newman Student Housing Fund President Matt Zerrusen, whose private development company owns the halls at Florida Tech and Texas A&M, said his firm plans to build one or two of the dorm units per year at other colleges as demand increases.
That demand appears to defy a 2012 Pew Research Center survey showing that 32 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans were turning away from religion or any faith-based affiliation.
Although the faith-based housing programs are run by the Catholic Church and most dorm residents are Christians, Jews, Muslims, and students of other faiths are welcome.
Students pay about the same for faith-based housing as in a traditional student hall. But the colleges profit because the units, including their operating costs, are privately funded.
"This was actually a financial joy for us," Anthony Catanese, president of Florida Tech, told the Journal of the recently established 148-bed Mary Star of the Sea residence hall.
But the dorms have created some complaints.
Last month, for example, the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which seeks to maintain state-church separation, complained to Troy that the Newman Center was illegal based on the fact that the dorms advocated a preference for "students who maintain an active spiritual lifestyle."
"That's absurd," Andrew Seidel, a foundation attorney told the Journal. "You can't favor religion over non-religion" at a government-funded college.
According to the Journal, the foundation also plans to challenge the establishment of a faith-based dorm at Texas A&M on the same grounds.
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