Forget "Luxury" Student Housing—The Dorms Are the Ripoff
Recently, a large apartment building was proposed for Dinkytown (evergreen lede) on the half block where the McDonald’s and liquor store currently sit. As such, I saw the standard complaints about l*x*ry apartments.
Which made me want to write down something I’ve been thinking about constantly since living on campus at the University of Minnesota in 2008.
Here goes: seems like the crappy (they're fine) dorms at the U are a way worse value than all the new apartments everyone complains about?
The data? We've got some data. Check out how much it costs to live on campus! Back in the day, I lived in Territorial Hall, which unfortunately appears to now have its own university-sanctioned hashtag. For fall 2019, a semester in Territorial Hall costs $3,139 American dollars.
Gotta break that down...so you get to live there from the last week of August until a few days before Christmas. That's 17 weeks. That comes out to about...$738 a month.
That’s to split a 189 square foot room with another person, with communal toilets and showers down the hall. They kick you out over Christmas and shortly after finals in May. And it’s not like the summer is all losses—they use some dorms for summer housing and rent some out for sports camps and things like that.
But that's not all! You are also required to buy a meal plan, which costs, at a minimum, $2,040 per semester. I remember at one point doing the math and noticing that, per meal, it would have been cheaper to just get Chipotle for every meal. Living on your own and making meal decisions for a whole week or whatever at a time, your costs can and almost certainly will be significantly lower.
Spending a few minutes looking up rents at some of the privately-owned student apartment buildings I can think of off the top of my head, it’s not hard to find units with way nicer stuff where you’d pay less than you would in the dorms. Even without counting the meal plan math.
Technically, this is bad? The U should not be running the dorms with the intention of making money off of them. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on. How much does it cost to run stacks of cinderblocks? You can fit four bros into a two bedroom, two bathroom unit in that apartment building with the lazy river off 394 and Brayden, Brendon, Brandon, and Bristan could each pay as little as $536 a month.
To be clear, I liked living in the dorms. You mix a bunch of random people with different life experiences together and that’s good. And cleaning your own microwave is a good steppingstone to cleaning an actual kitchen.
But if we’re concerned about housing and college costs, figuring out how to charge undergrads less than $10,000 a year to split 189 square feet might be low-hanging fruit. The U doesn’t pay property taxes and builds on land it already owns. At a minimum, living on campus should cost less than the building with the lazy river.
Disclaimer: As a former campus tour guide, the author has a guilty conscience. Described as the "best ever" tour guide by a high school guidance counselor who'd been on "hundreds" of campus tours, he could be complicit in hundreds of thousands (millions???) of dollars in student debt. He graduated in 2011 and has paid off all his loans.