At the end of Kalamazoo College’s Spring Quarter of 2014, Associate Dean of Students Dana Jansma realized that there was not enough space available in the residence halls to accommodate all the students—first-years, sophomores, and any juniors enrolled for Fall quarter–who were required to live in them. As a result of this overbooking, a handful of sophomores received an email in early June informing them that, based on their housing lottery number, they could remove themselves and three friends from the housing contract and move off campus for the 2014-15 school year.
“It was stressful, because you’re just like, okay, I have finals to worry about right now, and I have to pack, and, oh yeah, I have to find a house to live in for a year, and make sure it’s affordable and close to campus,” explained Mireya Guzmán-Ortíz, one of the Kalamazoo College sophomores who was allowed to live off campus for the 2014-15 school year. Guzmán-Ortíz’s housemate Caitlyn Whitcomb, also a sophomore, received the email from Jansma informing her that she had been selected to be removed from the housing contract if she so desired.
The stress of trying to find a lease for the following year during finals week was not enough to deter many sophomores from house hunting in between exams.
“At least from my point of view, it’s more affordable to live off campus,” says sophomore Moises Hernandez. “I pay around $1,200 for four months.”
Kalamazoo College’s website’s listing for room and board 2014-15, which includes an unlimited meal plan and a double room, is $8,679 for the year. Not including breaks, when residence halls are closed, this accounts for approximately 7 months. If a student finds off campus housing where one month costs $300 for rent, $25 for heat and electric, $7 for internet, $7 for water, and $150 for groceries, one month of off campus living would cost $489. This would put the price for 7 months at $3,423, which is $5,256 cheaper than living in the dorms.
“I’m paying a fraction of what a lot of my classmates are paying,” said Guzmán-Ortíz. “I’m really glad about that—God, I need that money.”
Despite that students who live off campus pay significantly less, Jansma stresses that the College’s main goal in requiring first-year and sophomore students to live on campus is not to make a profit.
“[Room and board] is a source of income to the College as well, but if it were a major source, we would build more residence halls and make people live on campus. The main source of revenue for the College is the tuition, which every student pays,” explained Jansma. “At the same time, we do need to keep the residence halls filled. It’s very costly—imagine you’re heating a building, providing electricity and custodial staff and everything to a building that’s half full. It costs just as much no matter how many people live there, and you’re not getting the revenue to pay for those resources.”
Of course, there’s more to the appeal of off campus life than just saving money. Many students like having a living space that is not regulated by a Residential Advisor.
“It was going to be my first time actually being independent and kind of living in a place where there was nobody to tell me what to do. I was excited,” said off campus sophomore Francisco Lopez about why he wanted to live off campus. Guzmán-Ortíz echoed the sentiment, adding, “Who doesn’t want a space that’s not directly connected to academics, a place where you don’t have to think about school all the time?”
“It’s backed by a fair amount of research that shows that students who live on campus, at least in the first couple years, are more likely to persist to graduation. This is because they are in environment where they have easier access to resources,” Jansma said, referencing the findings in “How College Affects Students” by Pascarella and Terenzini. She explained that it’s easier for younger students to adjust to college academically when they have a clean space to live in, easy access to internet and food, and when they don’t have to negotiate with a landlord. “It is a residential college. We’re small, it’s a way to be part of the community.”
While sophomores who are living off campus this year are excited for the opportunity, many complained about the time frame in which they were given to seek out housing off campus.
“I just wish they would have planned this out better and had given us more time. We figured it out, and we have a house and it’s close to campus and it’s cheap and everything, but the stress it puts on you at first is like…come on,” explained Guzmán-Ortíz, whose housemate received the email Saturday of 10th weekend. Both Guzmán-Ortíz and Whitcomb are from Oregon and had plans to fly home soon after receiving the email.
Hernandez, who is from California, had a similar complaint. “I wish they could have told us way more in advance, because it would have given us much more time to organize this stuff and find a place to live.”
The late notice was not an ideal situation for Jansma or the Office of Residential Life, either. “In about May is normally when I receive the count for what the size of the first year class is going to look like. So usually before May I can’t make any sort of call about what our capacity is going to be in the residential system.”
Jansma says the major factors that go into determining how much room is in the residential system are the sizes of the classes required to live on campus and how many students are planning to be abroad for any given year. This year, the large sophomore class was a roadblock to accommodating all first-year and sophomore students on campus. Once Jansma realized that these factors would not allow enough space on campus to accommodate the two classes required to live on campus, she opened up the opportunity to juniors who planned to live in the residence halls.
“Around 60 [juniors] volunteered and wanted to live off campus, which was wonderful, but that still didn’t get us quite to the point where we needed to be to accommodate everyone,” explained Jansma. Tripling rooms in Harmon, as was done last year to accommodate the large Class of 2017, was not an option this year because the hall was already mostly filled with upperclass students. Asking seniors to move off campus was also not an option, Jansma said.
According to Jake Lemon and Laura Riegger, the Area Coordinators for all Residence Halls on campus, asking seniors who chose to live on campus to leave was not an option, either.
“Seniority is a big part of it,” said Lemon about why seniors were not asked to leave before the opportunity was extended to sophomores. “And the reason is that we feel like seniors have the opportunity to choose whether they feel like they should live on or off campus. Naturally they have the most priority to have those spots.” Riegger added that few seniors choose to live on campus anyway, and that the benefits to having seniors live on campus are that they are likely to follow the housing policies.
The only option left at this point, in Jansma’s eyes, was to allow a small number of sophomores to live off campus.
“That would make everybody, I think, much happier,” she said, “because you have some sophomores who want to live off campus who can move off, and that also helped us accommodate juniors and seniors who wanted to be on campus. That’s how it played out.”
When asked how allowing sophomores to leave the housing system has affected the community in the residence halls, Riegger said that she hasn’t noticed too much of a change.
Now that the housing policy has changed to allow juniors to live off campus all year, Jansma believes that this additional time given to plan their housing for the year will encourage more juniors to move off campus. Because of this adjustment, the Housing office does not expect that sophomores will ever be given the opportunity to live off campus again.