With housing policy, financial aid fails to financially aid

A recent Businessinsider.com article ranked Case Western Reserve University’s dorms as the most expensive in Ohio higher education. Similarly, according to a poll on The Observer’s website, a whopping 78 percent of the 159 respondents said that the price of housing is too high for the quality that students receive. So while it would be great for our page views if this editorial could be an article full of outrage over ridiculously expensive housing, that can’t quite be the case. A closer look at the stats shows that we’re not that bad when it comes to cost.

According to a comparison to CWRU’s peer institutions (a better basis for judgement unless your only criteria for choosing a university are that it is in Ohio and has cheap housing), we are actually pretty solidly in the middle of the pack. To CWRU’s average of $12,898 per year for a double occupancy room and board (costs vary, but that’s the price listed by the National Center for Education Statistics), University of Rochester costs $13,128, Emory University costs $12,360, and Carnegie Mellon University costs $11,990. These are the statistics by which CWRU measures itself internally, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Lou Stark.

Stark emphasized that comparing CWRU to other Ohio institutions is like “comparing apples to oranges.” And we agree.

This rule encourages a residential atmosphere, and in this mission it’s fairly successful in doing so

However, while our costs do not stand out among peers, they are still high for many students (remember the above mentioned poll), especially for those already receiving a lot of financial aid. Through scholarships and generous financial aid packages, CWRU attempts to make a good education available to all. But certain financial aid policies do not follow this mission, as financial aid is tied to living on campus and thus requires acceptance of high housing costs.

University policy states that unless a student is registered as a commuter, they are required to live on campus during their freshman and sophomore years in some form of CWRU housing, be it the dorms, apartments or Greek options. This rule encourages a residential atmosphere, and in this mission it’s fairly successful in doing so, as university officials estimate that the percentage of students living on campus rests in the mid-80 percent.

Living on campus is guaranteed for all four years, an amazing fact considering we are an urban school. However for junior and senior year, students are supposed to be given the opportunity to move off campus.

Sounds great, right? Here’s the catch: for some of the most financially needy students—the 40 percent who receive need-based financial aid—this very opportunity to move into the surrounding neighborhood and save some money is not available. But what causes this?

Per university policy, which is not in any way tied to state or federal funding, the office of financial aid automatically reduces student need based grants by up to $11,820 per year if a student decides to move off campus.

Ironically, the students who would benefit from the cost savings of living off campus can’t do so, or they get their money pulled. For example, for a room in a Village at 115 apartments, students pay at least $9,910 per year in rent–$1101.11 per month. By comparison, CWRU students could instead rent an apartment in Little Italy for $500 a month with utilities. The students who demonstrate financial need get saddled with the more expensive housing options. Sure, there are some cheaper options than the Village, but they don’t save that much all while sacrificing a lot of amenities.

Living on campus comes with a lot of perks: community activities run by Residence Life Staff and the Residence Hall Association, not having to worry about rent payments, better safety, you name it. But are all these things worth coming out of school with an additional $10,000 in debt? We believe that for many students, the answer is no.

CWRU should instead focus on making our campus the sort of place where students will choose to live

Additionally, school officials defend this policy on the basis that they are dedicated to building a residential campus—85% of students currently live on-campus—and a more vibrant, involved campus community makes CWRU better for all of us. The Observer staff agrees that an active campus community is lovely, but we don’t think that financial manipulation is the way to achieve it.

Rather than punishing financially disadvantaged students who decide to try their luck with an off-campus apartment, CWRU should instead focus on making our campus the sort of place where students will choose to live. The Observer calls on our university to eliminate this classist, manipulative policy and replace it with positive incentives which will encourage students to choose to live on campus. Absolutely, let’s have a residential campus, but going forward let’s make it a residential campus where students want to live, not just one where certain students feel they need to stay to keep their need-based aid.


Statement from the Residential Hall Association’s Executive President  junior Victoria Robinson on the issue:

“As the Residence Hall Association, we believe that the residential community at CWRU is a valuable and significant experience and that each resident can make a difference in their community. All members of our residential community should understand the reasoning behind the financial cost of living in the residence halls. We look forward to supporting the discussion that follows in terms of distributing more information about these costs and assisting in voicing any student concerns that may follow. RHA is always open to any suggestions from students on how to improve the residential experience and will do everything in our capabilities to advocate on behalf of the residents.”