Students are struggling to afford living in dorms on campus

By Farah Bassyouni Jan 29, 2024

One of the things that I looked at when applying to Illinois Wesleyan were dorms, and the scholarships that came with them. I was excited with the potential of living on campus. I had never lived in a dorm before, being a transfer student from Heartland Community College, and was thrilled with the prospect of a suite or sharing with a roommate without family around. Before I tell you my decision, and opinion, on whether or not I decided to commute or live on campus, let’s look at the pros and cons of commuting and dorm living.

Living on campus definitely has its perks. It was what drew me in the first place.

Living in such close proximity to your family as a young adult has its challenges. It can become extremely distracting to help out with work around the house while also balancing schoolwork. I’m not opposed to doing the laundry or dishes, but when I say I have to do homework first, I mean it. I’m not saying it to get out of doing things, I am saying it because it is important. 

Living on campus means I could focus on my homework, study a little easier. 

Living on campus also meant that I could sleep in just a little bit longer or hit the snooze button one too many times. I wouldn’t have to worry about the ten minute drive or starting my car early in cold weather so it can warm up. If I forgot something in my bag, I wouldn’t have to say, “Sorry, I can’t go get it because it takes ten minutes to get there, find it, grab it and then ten minutes to get back here—not counting the walking distance from my car to the classroom.” By that time, I would wonder why bother coming back? I would just stay at home.

Meeting new people and being integrated into a community was a serious plus for me when debating commuter versus on campus. I liked the idea of having such a small and diverse community at school. 

I’ve talked about a few downsides to being a commuter, but I have failed to address the upsides, and I promised I would.

One upside is a guaranteed personal space. I said I loved meeting new people. I’ve said I wanted to have a roommate. And I do. But I’m also a hermit, so when my social bar cracks and falls to my feet it is time to pull out the hoodie and the comforter and hide away. I need my space and I need quiet. I need to recharge that battery. Having my own room and telling anyone who wants me to stay out is a good way to do that.

Not having a meal plan was also a plus for me. The cheapest package deal for an on campus student was roughly two thousand dollars. In the summer months I can get groceries for a month for about fifty dollars, if I don’t get the extra goodies. That may seem cheap but that is because I also work in a restaurant and a perk of that is free food. Whenever I stay late, I grab something to go and one dish usually takes me about two meals to finish due to my small stomach. So, fifty dollars times twelve is six hundred dollars, meaning that my cost for food is roughly a third or fourth of the cheapest meal plan.

So with all these pros and cons, my decision rested upon one remaining factor: cost. I pay my way through college with scholarships, grants, and loans from Discover. I had tried seeing if I could get scholarships to equal or surpass the insurmountable cost of living in a dorm—which for me was about twelve or fourteen thousand dollars for a whole year (due to the meal plan being included in the living costs). Unfortunately, I did not snag anything to cover even half that cost, which was contingent on me living in a dorm, coincidentally. The dorm halls with the common area didn’t look so appealing then, even with the giant library or community around it. And so I decided to commute. 

Living in a dorm shouldn’t cost so much. Understandably, heating and cooling systems, lighting and maintenance of dorm buildings do cost a lot, but in my mind it shouldn’t cost more than ten thousand dollars. On the Illinois Wesleyan website the 2022-2023 dorm costs, excluding the meal plan, a standard double room costs $8,046 for a year, plus an additional fee depending on which dorm hall or apartment complex you get. The fee can range from $1,500-$2,724 for a year. Comparatively, on Illinois State’s website a standard double room costs $5,970 for a year. It shocked me that the cost was almost half that of Illinois Wesleyan’s. While IWU is known for making students stay on campus for their first year, much like other institutions, they also prefer that students remain on campus living for the remainder of their schooling. However, IWU is slowly going to lose students, especially those who live in town, after their first year due to dorm costs. According to Elizabeth Renter’s article “Dorm Costs Have Soared, but Many Freshmen Have No Choice” she writes that the dorm costs have increased by 111% in the last thirty years, which is far faster than rents in town. So, with those numbers one can guess that the prices will continue to increase and the amount of students after freshman year will likely dwindle to cheaper housing. After all, we are poor college students who need to save money. The more money you save, the more you can pay back those pesky student loans in the future—and rather than taking out a loan just to live in a dorm and increase your cost of college, it seems to me that the smarter thing to do would be to just not live in a dorm at all.

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