Booth: The value of a dollar in campus housing

Samantha Booth

After staying up characteristically late, I woke up last Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. to the sound of someone drilling into my room through the solid concrete wall. It was the kind of thing that only happens to Jack Nicholson’s family circa “The Shining” and – of course – to residents of Plex.

Like a mole emerging from its underground den I made my way blinkingly into the hall to find a jungle of wires, ladders, carts, pipes and workers. Repairs on the Plex fire alarm system have been going on for nearly four months now so this scene wasn’t surprising. But it has been a fitting way to spend my last quarter living on campus – a fond farewell from the Northwestern housing department so to speak.

No doubt about it, I have absolutely overstayed my welcome in on-campus housing. Through a real life Series of Unfortunate Events, I’m still living in Plex as a junior. With the complication added by my Journalism Residency, I missed the boat on moving off campus last fall. And while that is no fault of the University, three years in on-campus housing has nevertheless made me bitter. But how could it not? That’s three years of overpriced meal plans, three years of malfunctioning, quarter eating laundry machines and three years of cold showers.

There are a lot of little things that bother me about on-campus housing – like that time that I found a spider in my dinner or that time the washing machine ripped a hole in my favorite shirt. And adding insult to injury, I’m paying for that. Paying a lot.

Room and board on campus runs about $13,000 per academic year. And while that number is obviously enormous, it’s not until you break it down that it gets really disturbing – and I mean more disturbing than finding a spider in your food. Looking at room and board on a monthly basis, living on-campus carries a price tag of more than $1,400 per month. Sure, that includes food, but still, students could nonetheless live literally anywhere else in Evanston for less.

And I mean anywhere. Thinking Evanston Place or the Park Evanston look nice? Sure they are, and they’re cheaper than Plex.

I hate to use this cliché, but it seems like every other school I’ve spent time at has had nicer dorms, better cafeterias and – above all – almost absurdly cheaper room and board costs. I’m writing this from the campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland where my sister is currently touring, and I must say their dorms made me want to run to the admissions office and apply to transfer. Not to mention, my friends at University of Montana are paying less than $400 a month to live on campus in apartment style housing – something that NU has yet to get on the bandwagon with.

True, Evanston is not Cleveland or Montana – it’s an upscale suburb in an expensive city. But that just doesn’t seem to justify the price of on-campus housing. Take the meal plans for instance. Did you know that one meal in the dining hall is the equivalent of $20 on your meal plan? The numbers just don’t add up.

And more importantly, the University is missing an opportunity to create a more cohesive campus atmosphere by perpetuating a system that is so over-priced and under-maintained that it almost forces people to move off campus.

As I tried to sprint through the Legends of the Hidden Temple-esque obstacle course to get to the shower last Tuesday morning – finding bathroom after bathroom blocked off with construction equipment – one of the construction workers said, “Sorry, this must be rather unsettling for you all.”

And sure, it sucks to live in a construction zone. But what is really unsettling is that the washing machines aren’t the only part of the Northwestern housing system that seems to eat money.

Samantha Booth is a Medill junior. She can be reached at [email protected]