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Ettinger: Two-year housing requirement detrimental to students

Cate Ettinger, Columnist

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In an effort to increase the sense of community on campus, Northwestern Residential Services is in the midst of a ten-year Housing Master Plan that will increase the number of undergraduate student residences on campus.  Five new residence halls will be built, many more will be renovated, and Bobb Hall, McCulloch Hall and Sargent Hall will be demolished.

Along with these changes on campus, Residential Services will require both freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. Greek houses will count as on-campus residences, but many students will be forced to live in a dorm again. Although this new two-year on-campus housing requirement is well intended, it will be detrimental to the Northwestern community by forcing students to stay on-campus when they are ready to leave.

The increased availability of on-campus housing may be useful to some students, but not if it is imposed in the form of this two-year obligation. Providing undergraduates with an alternative to navigating the housing market and the responsibilities of off-campus life may seem like a good initiative, but it will actually increase student reliance on the University at a time when they need to be learning important life skills.

This new requirement restricts students’ freedom to grow and develop as adults after their first year. The real world does not function like a dorm; students must learn to cook, clean and care for their home by themselves. Being required to live in university housing during sophomore year deprives students of time to develop these skills. Freshman year is a time of such massive change that it’s helpful to live in a structured community like a dorm, and have someone cook and clean for you.

But after one year of dorm life, many students are ready to move off-campus and into an apartment, and this is a great way to learn how to responsibly manage the duties of renting one’s own living space and cooking for oneself. In this way, the new housing requirement is inhibiting our development of independence as young adults. Students won’t even get a taste of off-campus life until halfway through their college career, and when they do they may not have a good feel for the housing market. Additionally, after relying on a meal plan for two years, students may have trouble learning how to budget their money on their own. Leaving easy access to dining halls after two years of dependence will challenge many students when it comes to preparing and budgeting for food.

Additionally, the on-campus requirement places a financial burden on many students as off-campus housing is often cheaper than room and board at NU.  Regardless of whether or not all students can find off-campus housing at lower prices, they will not even be afforded the option to look with NU’s new housing plan. Instead of being able to compare costs between apartments and residence halls, students will be forced to pay another year of room and board costs. And there is no guarantee that NU will not raise the cost of on-campus housing, seeing that the University is spending large sums building the new residence halls. So students will be at the whim of Residential Services when it comes to what they must shell out for housing for, not just one, but two years now.

This policy also disadvantages rising sophomores who want increased control over who they live with or near. In an attempt to create a tighter-knit community on campus, this new housing requirement may actually split up groups that want to live together. The housing selection process is essentially a lottery and therefore groups of friends cannot guarantee they will be able to live together. A group of three or more students would have an easier time simply renting an apartment together than all trying to get rooms near each other in the same residence hall. While the new housing program is aimed at keeping people together on campus, it may inadvertently break up already formed communities that would have an easier time existing off-campus.  

Although the housing plan for the future will improve current residence halls and make more space for those that want to live on campus, it will be a substantial burden for many students.  Sophomores will lose the freedom to get an apartment of their own, choose the people in their community and find housing that is priced within their budget.

Cate Ettinger is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at CatherineEttinger2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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