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Student Housing Becoming More Elaborate, Edging Toward Unaffordable for Many

Photography by Jens M. Lindhe

College dorm life is a rite of passage for thousands of freshmen in the United States and around the world. While many responsible parents and guardians set aside money for their child’s college opportunity, the rising costs for student housing serve as an unwelcome and surprising X factor.

Student Housing Options

Whether going to a private or public university, there’s a high probability that scholarships, loans or some combination of the two will be necessary. Colleges have the unique prerogative to charge for room and board, which is why many scholarships include a student housing coverage. However, even with this additional financial aid, sometimes off-campus living is a cheaper option.

Unless you are a member of the lucky 1 percent, any long-term student residence will probably require some type of outside financial aid. Thankfully, most awards or loans can be applied to on-campus living because the money gets directed straight to the university. In order to ensure this money does indeed reach the school, most financial aid awards are set up so students may not use the grant or loan to pay for off-campus rent without earning some type of tax repercussion or penalty.

Benefits of Student Housing

On-campus student housing has increased not only in cost, but also in comfort and benefits as well. Things such as air conditioning, stylistic furnishings, and private bathrooms are only the beginning changes to 21st-century dorm life. Additional amenities include cinematic entertainment centers, access to five-star restaurants and even giant ball pits for residents.

Other benefits of on-campus housing include location to classes, study resources and professors, as well as the availability of meals and entertainment. On-campus residents are provided with meal tickets, coupons and discounts. Students who both live on-campus and participate in work-study programs or work during their college years can save their money. 

Off-campus living is becoming more popular though, as students struggle to meet the financial demands that all of this state-of-the-art on-campus housing requires. There are many benefits to off-campus housing as well, making it a highly competitive industry. Students have more space to themselves and fewer distractions — certainly a boon during final exams. Also, having a kitchen provides the opportunity to prepare their own meals and save money on campus cuisine.

Perhaps most importantly, it helps prepare students for the real world by teaching them how to manage their money and build credit history, and it saves them a ton of money. On average, on-campus students will spend an estimated $11,571 per year, while off-campus students spend about $9,669 annually. This is an over $2,000-a-year difference, and for a student who is buried in other scholastic fees as is, that extra $2,000 can mean everything.

All the convenience in the world means nothing if a student cannot afford books or other necessities after tuition and residential costs.

College as an Investment

Education has always been a social equalizer. Despite the uncontrollable circumstances of any person's birth or home environment, it’s access to quality education that will provide an opportunity for a better life. Recognizing this, the USA and other advanced societies have provided primary, elementary and high school education as free opportunities.

On the other hand, higher education serves as a voluntary extension of a citizen's studies, making it an investment. While the steady costs increases in higher education are typically smaller in price after taking grant aid and tax benefits into account, room and board costs consistently raise albeit slower than tuition and fees. This explains the necessity for incoming students and guardians to properly research their housing options both on campus and off.

Affording the College Investment

Outside of the top 1 percent, the average college freshman comes from a household with a median income of a little more than $74,000 — a 14 percent increase from 1970s household income. Meanwhile, average tuition and fees at four-year colleges and universities have increased by more than 10 percent in 2016. This percentage has steadily occurred from 2011 to 2017, and there’s no reason to suspect it will decrease in the future.


These numbers do not bode well for the average college attendee in the future. The true value of education, especially higher education, lies in the lower-middle class and poverty class citizenry. If the average citizen can barely afford college attendance in the future, how much more will lower-income families suffer? Even if through grants of scholarships and loans a student manages to get their foot through the door, their residency will prove an increasing issue as the years pass on.

Αbout the author
Kate Harveston is an online journalist with particular interests in social change, health, politics and news. She holds a Bachelors in English and enjoys reading and hiking in her spare time. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased. 

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