Four More Years

This year, UCSD became the first university in the UC system to guarantee four-year housing to incoming freshmen. And with all the new residential buildings popping up on campus, from the Village West to Keeling apartments (completed August 2011), UCSD certainly has room for a few more tenants. This is due to a five-year building program, completed last year, that nearly doubled housing capacity on campus, according to Mark Cunningham, assistant vice chancellor of housing and dining. While providing four years of on-campus housing is a nice option to offer, the problem is that many students simply can’t afford it.

An upside to living on campus is that your rent is all-inclusive: furniture, cable, Internet and gas and electric. This makes move in so much easier since students walk into a fully furnished home their first day, and only have to worry about a single rent bill. For a student with a comfortable financial situation, on campus is the place to be. But at $11,298 a year for a single room — that’s $1,225 per month — it is also some of the most expensive rent you’ll find, and considering we live in La Jolla, this is no small boast. When compared to the townhouses just off campus in La Jolla Vista Townhouses (nicknamed “Regents” for its close proximity to the Regents parking lot), the cost of a single room hovers around $730 a month, or $450 if splitting a master bedroom. If you add gas and electric ($10 a month) and Internet ($8), the bill is still significantly lower than on-campus housing. The only major expense is buying furniture if needed. That one-time cost is often simply solved by Craigslist or graduating friends desperate to get rid of old furniture.

It is on-campus housing, combined with the required meal plan, that really leaves student bank accounts deflated. Even Yahoo! News did a story on us. A 2007 story, titled “The Freshman Minus-15: Students at UC San Diego Are Kept in a Perpetual State of Hunger by the School’s Draconian Dining Hall Policy,” reported that students were coming home from Winter Break as “shells of their former selves” because the dining hall prices were too high for students to afford full meals every day. Since then, UCSD has not lowered food prices, but instead increased the required amount of meal points a dorm resident must purchase. Meal plans have increased from $1,800 in 2007 to $2,950 in 2012, a $1,000 increases over the past five years. Being required to spend nearly $3,000 on expensive dining hall food is enough to turn many students away from living on campus.

So let’s do the math here. A frugal student who opted to live in a triple will pay $9,698 a year, plus $2,950 on dining dollars. That’s $1,405 a month, without factoring in fun expenses like the movies, going shopping or eating out at a restaurant.

The final kicker is, you guessed it: Parking. When you live off campus, it is almost always guaranteed that your rent includes a couple reserved parking spots — after all, everyone needs access to a car in San Diego if they want to see farther than their front yard. But UCSD doesn’t see it that way — if you want your car on campus you will need to cough up $732 a year. Parking is not only expensive, it’s scarce. Of the 14,138 parking spaces on campus, there are only 4,910 S spots. And UCSD isn’t working to increase this number — in fact, 133 S spots were actually eliminated in 2010. Parking is a huge deterrent to living on campus. If UCSD could lower the cost of student parking permits and increase the number of student parking spots, more students would be encouraged to return to on-campus living.

In addition to lowering the cost of parking permits, Housing, Dining and Hospitality should re-evaluate many aspects of their budget with the sole purpose of making on-campus living more affordable. If dishwashing is a high expense, UCSD should look into getting rid of trays. Williams College in Massachusetts saved an estimated 14,000 gallons of water annually since eliminating trays in one of their dining halls, according to Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.

UCSD is known for being an extremely innovative campus, so let’s find ways that we can channel that creativity into affordable student life. A four-year guarantee for housing won’t mean much until on-campus living becomes more desirable.

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