As a second semester transfer student, I had a tough choice to make going into my sophomore year: would I continue living in the dorms, get a room in my fraternity house or begin a long, possibly futile search for off-campus housing?
Juggling school, student organizations and pledging, I dropped the idea of looking for a new place and narrowed my options to University housing and my fraternity. Looking to avoid the constant distractions of partying and living with 23 of my best friends, I chose the dorm over my fraternity. I made a big mistake.
Don’t get me wrong. Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall is a great place to live — good people around me and all the amenities I need (not to mention a place to get away from my social life). The problem is all money.
Over the past year, my financial situation has changed drastically. With this change has come the need to save money in every way possible, especially when it comes to big costs like housing and food. Much to my dismay, the University failed to subsidize my room and board. Right now, the cost for my residence hall, excluding food, is nearly $1,000 per month.
Along with the price to share a bedroom, bathroom and study areas, I’m forced to shell out cash for a meal plan too. I understand that I have food prepared for me and I only have to take a short walk to get it, but the dining hall isn’t worth the cost. The standard 150-block meal plan costs $1,915. Subtract Blue Bucks and Dining Dollars, and the average cost per meal comes down to around $11.43 a swipe. At this rate, I could eat at restaurants on South University Avenue every single day and still have money left over. Freshmen could hypothetically live at the new luxury apartments at Landmark, cook for themselves and still pay less than they do for a cramped double on North Campus.
It should be noted freshmen do choose whether to live in the residence halls or not. Like me, their off-campus options will be very limited, as most of the decent off-campus housing has already been scooped up by the time high-school students are admitted to the University.
More important than money or location, however, is community. Especially for students with very few friends at the University, the people you meet and get to know in a freshman hall become your first real group of friends in college. Even if you’re like me and came to Michigan with plenty of close friends, the dorms are a beneficial way to meet new people and make friends outside of your comfort zone. Living off-campus could make it a lot harder for freshman to obtain the friends and social skills that college demands. Whether you love them or hate them, dorms are extremely important in the way our University functions. Because of this, the cost of University housing and meals absolutely has to go down.
I’ll be the first to admit that I made a boneheaded decision by choosing to live in the dorms yet again. I don’t need the community building that University housing provides and it would save me a huge amount of money to live somewhere else. Even my newly restored, $5-million fraternity house would be cheaper than what I pay now, but my failure to do the math ahead of time doesn’t excuse the University for ripping off freshman.
If the University is serious about keeping the school diverse and accessible to people of all backgrounds, then it needs to stop overcharging for things like room and board. Tuition costs increased yet again this year, making Michigan harder and harder for low-income students to afford. Diversity is not just racial, but also socio-economic. If they don’t have the money, freshmen students will eventually begin to live off-campus, which is detrimental to community building, or stop coming to the University altogether, favoring more affordable schools.
We may very well see the school lose either its sense of community, cherished diversity and plurality — or all three. What’s for sure is that if major costs like tuition, room and board continue to increase, we will soon find out the hard way.
James Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.