We all remember the first semester of college, for better or for worse. Moving into your dorm, having to cope with the pressures of a new city without the comfort of hometown staples and learning how to live on your own. Taking responsibility for things that you accepted as givens when you were younger is often when you realize you’ve become an adult. And with adulthood comes the non-negotiable responsibility of managing expenses.
As any college student knows, college expenses are a burdensome source of stress. They can eat away at your time and mental health. But, beyond the obvious line items on the semesterly invoice, such as tuition or housing rates, many students don’t realize the extent of the hidden costs tacked onto their bill. These include, but are not limited to: laundry, food outside of the dining halls and other out-of-pocket necessities that the average college frequently fails to make obvious for prospective students. Once on campus, the most well-hidden expense quickly becomes obvious: laundry.
When students live in a dorm at the University of Michigan, they first have to pay for laundry supplies such as detergent, fabric softener and bleach. Then, they have to pay the University (to which they’ve already given tens of thousands of dollars) for access to the machines themselves, a cost never advertised during their supposedly “complete” tour of the University. The many aspects of cleanliness on a college campus generate expenses that can easily add up, and yet are absolutely necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s break down the numbers for laundry costs. The University charges $1.25 per load for washer machines and $1 per load for dryer machines. Boxes of detergent cost anywhere from $5 to $15. Meanwhile, the average cost of just a single bottle of fabric softener usually ranges from $3 to $7. Heavy loads may require multiple washes, stacking these already high variable costs on top of one another. Put together, it can be estimated that each student pays roughly $90 to $200 a year out of their pockets to do laundry on campus, with no opportunity to cover these costs through financial aid.
We shouldn’t accept those numbers as inevitable. After all, such horrific statistics don’t exist at so many other peer institutions — many of which the University of Michigan is ranked higher than in general quality of life metrics. Many other colleges have made the move to include the use of laundry machines in their tuition. These include Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University, other colleges in the Big Ten such as the University of Illinois and the Ohio State University and the one school which fits both of those criteria: Michigan State University. This practice is a widespread standard for many schools with the University of Michigan’s traits because it has many self-evident benefits to students. Including laundry fees in tuition relieves students of a deceptively heavy burden, and that’s just the start of the positive consequences for students.
There are numerous benefits to including laundry fees in housing costs, both for students and the University. By making students pay for laundry at the beginning of the year, it encourages them to do laundry in the future through the psychological effect (and economic fallacy) known as “sunk cost.” Doing laundry improves physical health by minimizing chances of sickness. Moreover, the removal of the pay-per-use barrier will increase general clothing cleanliness, enhancing the respectability of University students.
When students no longer have a price shoved in their face every time they try to wash their belongings, they’ll no longer want to messily shove all of their laundry into one machine to save money. And if their clothes don’t get fully dried in one load, or a machine malfunctions, students will be able to complete multiple cycles and fully cleanse their clothing without fear of further unbudgeted expenses. But it’s not just a matter of making the activity of laundry less urgent and stressful. Folding laundry machine fees into the University’s official housing or tuition rates also means that hundreds to possibly thousands of students would be able to pay for laundry with financial aid, scholarships and grants. Clearly, laundry being part of housing rates would benefit all University students, especially those who struggle with college expenses.
Laundry fees being included in housing or tuition rates would also be beneficial for universities, as it will persuade students to live on campus. At the University of Michigan, freshmen are not required to live on campus. Therefore, a notable minority of first-year students choose to rent apartments or houses. However, they might consider it more worthwhile to live on campus if they didn’t have to worry about the ever-changing, undisclosed costs of University housing — such as, say, laundry.
In fact, an improvement of the campus laundry paradigm could also help the administration by increasing application rates for the University of Michigan. After all, although the University typically ranks very highly in national publications for most categories, the U.S. News and World Report ranks Michigan as tied for the 65th spot in first-year experiences. Antiquated and confusing rules, such as paying for laundry separately, could contribute to this dismal ranking of this statistic. When comparing costs of colleges through means like these very rankings, students will see the tangible benefits of having “free use” laundry machines. Having the costs of laundry be included in tuition fees could make college much less of an overarching burden on students, and it could be a key motivating factor for where students choose to attend college.
So what should the University do? Central Student Government recently passed a resolution stating that it would like the University to revise its housing rates to include laundry machine fees, making them a flat fee under room and board costs. This wouldn’t solve all of the hidden costs we deal with on a daily basis; however, centralizing one of the University’s most major hidden costs would be a great start. The “Laundry Cost Transparency” resolution could be adopted by the University as soon as tomorrow, or it could be flexibly implemented in the next budgeting cycle following the conclusion of the winter semester.
Certainly, there’s a lot of ways in which this potential policy could be implemented. But we, on behalf of the thousands of students who agree with this common sense decision, urge the university to take action as soon as possible.
Riley Kina is a freshman in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and an LSA representative in Central Student Government, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Handzel is a freshman in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and an associate representative in LSA Student Government, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Tyler Fioritto is a senior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and an LSA representative in Central Student Government, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.