Everyone knows that going to college comes with quite the hefty price tag. When students are busy paying for tuition, books, and parking permits, they spend their time scrambling to pay for their housing. Since many Virginia Tech-like institutions require that first-year students live on campus, debates about pricey campus housing have been ongoing. As an up-and-coming university housing professional, I often find myself and my colleagues considering the following questions when thinking about how to alleviate the financial burden of on-campus residents:
- Do we decide on a flat rate that everyone pays regardless of the building they live in?
- Do we charge residents differently based on what space they live in?
- to account for various amenities such as air-conditioning, private bathrooms and other renovations (aka the “you get what you pay for approach”)?
- If we keep placing our “proven to be the best living experience” living-learning communities in newer buildings, how will we ensure that low-income students are able to opt into such experiences?
- If we stop charging student a “living-learning community fee”, how to do pay to run living-learning communities? Do we continue to charge residents an additional fee or seek funding elsewhere? Where?
Overall, the argument comes to be whether universities should be only offering housing at price points that students across the income spectrum can afford. Where this becomes tricky is when universities partner with private companies to shoulder the initial building costs of residence halls—this approach allows for university funds to be invested in teaching, research, and providing even more financial aid. However, as universities continue to face financial constraints that force private partnerships, lower income students are less catered to and therefore placed in less intellectually stimulating and visually appealing living communities.
It certainly seems classist to ignorantly allow higher income students to stay in the nicer housing while lower income students settle for older housing with less amenities. Though, in order to profit off student housing, a tiered housing model seems necessary. In the future, housing officials will need to consider more creative and inclusive means of developing residence hall environments that create equal opportunities and experiences for all residents regardless of family income. While this certainly seems like an impossible feat at this time, I believe it is not impossible if we are willing to take some risks and begin thinking differently about our traditional marketing model.