Do colleges eat tremendous losses every year while providing student housing?

I’ve always wondered why they do that though - it’s not like they’re renting them out short-term to wayfarers during the break. Obviously there are operating/maintenance costs, and I suppose enough people want to leave during the breaks that they’ve determined it not to be worth it to keep them open, but it seems like there are also enough students who still need a place to live that it would be profitable to keep them open year-round.

Actually, some are. I’m on the organizing committee of a conference which is being held at a university in New York City (not Columbia, though). The university will be renting dorm rooms to attendees of the conference. It’s much cheaper and convenient for us, and the university makes money on a dormitory which would otherwise be vacant.

Some students that tell the housing facilities early on that they’ll need summer or break living accomodations are allowed. Sometimes (at least my UF experience) they were told they’d have to pay extra and/or move from the dorm they’d stayed most of the time.

Also, over the summer, many of those dorms are used to accomodate students attending camp, summer school, or freshman orientation weeks (with their families).


When i first arrived in the US, over 10 years ago, i made a two-week stop in Madison, Wisconsin to do some research at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, and i stayed in a room in the UW dorms.

It was cheap, clean (although not luxurious) and a short walk along the lakeside from downtown. There were plenty of other people there too. Some were individuals like me, while others were there for conferences or meetings.

As others have said, some colleges do rent rooms during the summer. I stayed in a college dorm once during a trip to Toronto.

There might also be legal issues involved in having students live in a room over the summer. It might change their status from student residents to legal tenants or something and give them occupancy rights.

John Hopkins? John Hopkins? Tsk-tsk-tsk. Did you really go there? :stuck_out_tongue:

I always thought it was the other way around. I went to college in the midwest, and my younger brother had to attend dorms the first year (I did not because I was a transfer student). I think his cost was about 5-6k over 9 months for rent and food coupons. For that he got a dorm about 100-250 sq ft (can’t remember, about the size of a bedroom) that he had to share with a roommate made of concrete with no air conditioning.

After that the two of us got a 900 sq ft 2 bedroom apartment that was about $650/month for rent and utilities split between 2 people. And we got our own private bedrooms, plus the heating/cooling system was much better. Per person it was only $325 each per month.

The dorms seemed like a ripoff where I went. They had a better location. But they were much smaller, no privacy, worse utilities and more expensive than off campus living.

It might be different in high cost of living areas. But like Nemo said earlier, if they were such a good deal I don’t think colleges would force first year non-transfer students to stay in them.

Quoth Superhal:

Even a shared bathroom with another room is a pretty good deal: Most dorms I’ve seen have no bathroom connected to the room at all, just one big communal bathroom down the hall shared by a couple dozen rooms. And no kitchen facilities either, of course.

Possibly, but not necessarily. I can think of other possible reasons why a college might require some students to live on campus:

(1) It’s a good deal if the dorms are full (or nearly full), but if fewer students live in the dorms, the college has to charge more per student.
(2) The college feels that dorm life is an important part of the college experience that they want their students to have.
(3) They want to encourage all students, especially freshmen, to participate in extracurricular activities and get involved in campus life, which they’re less likely to do if they don’t live on campus. They don’t want the campus to become dead at night and on weekends, so that there’s nothing to do for the students who do live on campus.
(4) They want to avoid the extra traffic congestion or competition for parking that would occur if most students drove to campus every day.

IIRC, there’s also some research that links living on campus with higher grades and greater likelihood of remaining enrolled. Anecdotally, it’s been my experience that students who commute seem to be less likely to have a support network of friends on campus and more likely to drop / stop / transfer out.

Do you remember which dorm you were in? I lived in the Lakeshore Dorms for all four years of my undergrad work at Madison. :slight_smile:

That was the case in all the dorms at UW-Madison when I was there in the 1980s. Nearly all of the dorm rooms were shared by 2 people, with a communal bathroom for the entire floor (even in the co-ed dorms, every floor was single-sex). The newest of the dorms had been built in the 1960s; the oldest in the 1920s.

While I was there, they built a small, new dorm, which was specifically for honors students, IIRC, which had private bathrooms.

Just chiming in-- statistically, there’s a strong correlation between living on campus as a freshman and graduating within four (or five) years. Correlation is not causation, but many colleges do buy into this. I’ll see if I can dig up some cites.

That said, in my college experience, finances were a huge reason that most juniors and seniors lived off campus. It was a small town, so it wasn’t difficult to get your own room in a house less than half a mile from campus for less than $350 per month. Personally, I lived alternately in kind of crappy houses and houses more than half a mile away, so I never paid more than $200 per month in rent.

How recent is your experience? Because my freshman year dorm had the communal bathrooms, but I’ve heard that they’ve since renovated the buildings to provide private or semi-private bathrooms.

I graduated in 2000, so maybe things are different now, but when I started at Santa Cruz, freshmen got guaranteed on-campus housing for all four years, although you lost the guarantee by moving off campus. I lost mine by doing my junior year abroad. (Looking for housing for my senior year was a special kind of hell, btw.)

We have a friend who only got one year at Berkeley. Santa Cruz likely has two, UCSD seems to. It has gotten tighter in the past few years - the restrictions at Maryland I mentioned are fairly recent. I’m not aware of private schools who kick you out. Anyhow, one year or two, the point remains that if schools were making tons of money on dorms they’d not want to kick kids out of them.

All I can say is wow! Columbia is really cheap. At my alma mater, the University of Missouri, base room and board is $8,600 per year. At my son’s school, also a state school, but in an even smaller town, the cheapest R&B package is $6,990.

And that’s for a basic package. That’s your half of a 10’x14’ room with two beds and a 3’ foot closet, a common bathroom down the hall, and 19 meal-plan meals a week in the cafeteria.

My other son went to school in Chicago. He had a two-bedroom, four-person suite with bath. $8,700 per year.

They just say there is no room. Easier than an apartment, because you leave over the summer anyway and are usually in a new room. When my daughter started at Maryland I think people could stay in the dorms for all four years, by the time she left they pushed out most juniors and seniors. She got to stay only because she was an RA.

I suppose that state schools don’t have the money to build new dorms, and do want to increase enrollment to make some more money out of existing physical plant. That would lead to a shortage of dorm space.

In contrast my other daughter stayed all four years in a dorm at U of Chicago, Al Capone’s hotel.

I wonder if some of these schools take the same approach to room & board as they do to tuition: set it high, but be generous with financial aid for students who can’t afford to pay that much.

Yes, but your numbers are for room and board. The numbers I quoted for Columbia are just for the room. The estimated room and board total for Columbia is over $10,000.