Meal plans, roommates, gas, tuition, food, bills, textbooks, supplies and utilities—no matter where a student chooses to live, whether in a dorm, an apartment or with family, there are many costs he or she must consider.
Besides tuition, the biggest expense students have to consider is that of room and board, an expense that will persuade a student where they are going to live during their college years.
According to Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli, the budget committee tries hard to make costs as low as possible for students. To do this, the committee looks at general inflation rates as well as what students can afford. The committee then creates a proposal, which is approved by the board of trustees.
Vitangeli said that when students pay the bill for room and board, the money goes towards various items that make sure the dorms are operating smoothly. For example, a portion goes toward maintenance, plumbing and custodial staff salaries. If there is a clogged toilet or a leaky ceiling, some of the money students pay for room and board goes toward the repairs. Some of the money also is used to pay for cable, electric, water and other bills, so that students can have all these services in their dorms.
Executive Vice President for Campus Affairs and Enrollment Services Mark Weigand said that a portion of the money also goes toward bond payments that were taken out to build East and Roberts halls.
Vitangeli also explained that there is no specific breakdown in terms of housing costs for an individual student, and the money that a student pays does not just go toward the building in which he or she lives.
According to Vitangeli, the raised prices are minimal compared to other universities, but some students choose to commute from apartments because they believe that is cheaper.
One student who made that choice is senior chemistry major Melanie Pugh, who lives in an off-campus apartment with two of her friends. She drives to school and said she made the choice to move into an apartment because of the costs.
“I definitely think living off campus is cheaper,” she said. “I generally pay $400 per month, which would be $4,800 for the year. Living on campus requires a minimum of $4,570 to live in the dorms for two semesters. Plus those living in the dorms are required to have at least the 10-meal plan, which is a total of $3,440 for two semesters. That’s a full total of $8,010 in order to live in the dorms, and that is only for 7.5 months of actually being allowed to live there. The $4,800 that I am paying is for 12 months of living.”
After increases, living in a residence hall with a 14-meal plan will cost $9,010 for the 2013-2014 school year. While there are additional costs for gas, food and bills, Pugh said that there are definite advantages to living in an apartment.
“Some perks to living off campus are that I am truly an adult,” she said. “I pay my bills and have the responsibility of living on my own. I don’t have to abide by the restrictions that come with RAs and living in the dorms.”
Senior nursing major Emily O’Brian also lives in a house with two of her friends, and she also said that the costs of living in an apartment are cheaper for her, but she also has more freedom. However, she also said certain things could be improved for commuters.
“Parking is definitely a big downfall,” she said. “There is not enough parking on campus that is close to the buildings for commuters, even though we are a big commuter school. It makes no sense.”
Sophomore professional and creative writing major Jessi Tillman and freshman pre-med human biology major Julian Everett both said that they get their money’s worth when it comes to housing, but there are some improvements that could be made. Tillman, an East Hall resident who has lived on campus since her freshman year, said that she would like more social events on campus that are more than just sports and monthly events.
“There’s not a lot to do on campus, as much as they like to say there is,” she said. “There’s nothing seriously interactive. A lot of stuff is just sports, and while I have Greyhound pride, I’m not going to go to sporting events because it’s just not my thing.”
However, Tillman also said that she enjoys living on campus. And there is personal gain through the experience.
“You have that ability to just kind of learn who you are and try to understand how to do everything and learn from your mistakes. Because no matter how many times your parents tell you, you’re not really going to learn until you do it yourself,”
Social interaction and involvement in activities are important to college students, Weigand said, and one thing faculty members encourage commuters to do is to buy a small meal plan, so that they may eat in the dining hall, where most of the social interaction takes place.
“There’s a social side for freshmen that’s really important,” he said. “You’re coming in as a freshman, you don’t really know a lot of people, and that’s another reason for commuters … to still buy a meal plan of some sort, so that they can eat with other students and make those really important connections.”
According to Vitangeli, 50 percent of students live off campus, and she encourages commuters to attend programs and activities on campus in order to feel connected.
Unfortunately, for some students this is not always possible. Freshman pre-art therapy major Laura Mikeworth is a commuter who lives with her mother 15 minutes away from campus.
“If there is something going on I want to do, I have to drive back [to campus]. And if I have already left for the day, I don’t really want to spend [the] gas to drive back and forth,” she said. “[College] kind of still feels like high school. You go to your classes, then you go home. I don’t really feel connected to anything on campus.”
Mikeworth does not have a meal plan, so she spends $10 to $20 a week on food if she eats on campus and close to $80 a month on gas.
Vitangeli believes it is important for freshmen to live on campus, and according to Weigand, 80 to 85 percent of them do.
O’Brian also said that living on campus helps students socially.
“Being a senior, I already have a group of friends that I am close with,” O’Brian said. “I do believe if I were a freshman commuter, it would be more difficult to have more friends, because you meet so many people living in a dorm.”
Junior theatre major Nate Coder also is a commuter who lives with his parents 20 minutes away from campus on the East side. Coder lived on campus during his freshman and sophomore years, but after a scholarship mix up, he decided to commute.
Coder said he’s “fairly in the know” about events on campus but likes commuting because it gives him the chance to spend time with his family. He has a meal plan, so he does not have to pay as much for food. And because he is enrolled in school, his parents do not require him to pay bills. The only outside expenses Coder pays are gas and car maintenance. One difficulty with being a commuter, he said, was driving during this past winter.
“I feel slightly more disadvantaged at times with all the weather that was going on last winter. It’d get really bad, and they’re just like, ‘Well, just bundle up and come to class.’ It’s easier if you just live across from those classes, but I’m 20 minutes away,” he said. “… I’m going to be out in those elements a lot longer than a student who lives here.”
Overall, students said that no matter what the living situation, there are drawbacks but also many bonuses. When it comes to the costs of living on campus, the numbers are straightforward. But when it comes to social interactions and participation, that all depends on the student.
“I think students have to decide for themselves what they want their college experience to look like,” Vitangeli said. “Studies have shown that students who live on campus, especially their first year, get connected more easily to campus culture. They get more involved, [and] they are able to meet others. But students also have to look at the costs and whether or not that’s something they can afford. And [for] some students who live close to home, for them, it’s more convenient to live at home and commute and save that cost.”
Weigand said that every student has different needs and lifestyles that lead to different decisions in terms of living arrangements, and a good way to get started is to get all the facts.
“The most important thing would be for each person to research and get all the facts, so they can make the best decision for themselves,” Weigand said. “I think each student is different, and each student and family’s situation is different. So I think the fact that we have opportunities and different options for all the students is a good thing.”