Op-ed: Residency requirement blocks avenue for students to save money

I represent the inaugural class of students the college will require to live on campus for three years. Soon to be facing a future of financial insecurity due to college debt, I am disregarded from Emerson’s list of credible reasons to be exempt from their new residency requirement. My parent’s annual income is enough to support a family of five, but not enough to fund a four-year education at Emerson.

The college announced in 2016 that freshmen who entered Emerson during the fall of 2017 or later must live on campus for their first six semesters—or their first three years at Emerson.

Room and board at Emerson adds up to $17,690 per year, which is about $1,474 per month. Since other areas in Boston cost significantly cheaper to live in, I planned to live off campus during my junior year in an attempt to save money. However, moving off campus is no longer as simple as I’d hoped.

According to Associate Dean for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp in a Beacon article published last fall, Emerson put in place a new residency requirement in an effort with the city to have as many students on campus as possible. Mayor Martin J. Walsh stated in a document released in 2014 that more than 50 college and universities exerted pressure on Boston’s housing market. Walsh found that this led to fewer houses available for families and working people in Boston.

According to Walsh’s document, college students clustered in areas such as Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and Allston and Brighton. Walsh stated that this created concentrated local competition that displaced those in the workforce and families in these neighborhoods away from the market, ultimately forcing rent to rise.

While it’s important for Emerson to look at how off-campus housing affects local residents, if a college makes on-campus housing mandatory, they should at least make it affordable for students.

The current housing requirement forces students who may want to live off campus to live on campus. Currently, the housing requirement also leaves transfer students in the dark, as students who transfer to Emerson are not guaranteed on-campus housing, and only have a 2 percent chance of obtaining it through a lottery. Thus, a student transferring from a school in another state after their freshman year not only must find a place to stay in a new city, but they also have to find roommates and a location with access to public transportation—all for an affordable price, in addition to Emerson’s tuition.

Although providing students with a safe and convenient on-campus space can be a great option, making it a requirement for students—many of whom this may not be financially feasible for—is a neglectful mistake.

The Office of Housing and Residence life only exempts students from the housing requirement if they deem it necessary for reasons such as financial hardship that would prevent them from attending Emerson, disability, marital status, veteran status, being over the age of 25, or commuting from home.

If none of these apply, students can put their names into a lottery to be exempt from the requirement. However, the odds of winning the lottery have recently become more difficult. According to a Beacon article, the college reduced the number of students released from the requirement to less than 50 in November 2018. “There will always be a sort of reverse lottery for students that aren’t able to live here for three years or need to move off-campus,” Muurisepp said in the article. “But that number will be smaller and smaller each year of who we let off the residency requirement.”

This college’s housing system completely disregards the money my family actively pays to Emerson and the fact that the college does not offer me enough financial aid to continue living on campus. Since I cannot be released from the housing requirement and I live too far away to commute to Emerson, I am left with fewer options to save money while attending Emerson.

And since Emerson is located in downtown Boston, apartments in walking distance are almost unpayable by anyone in the middle class, especially students, with pricing anywhere from $2,100–$2,250.

Emerson’s housing requirement creates an obstacle for many students. Of course, some students can afford to live on campus at Emerson and will reap the benefits of living in a dorm for six semesters, but many others fight month to month to afford room-and-board expenses, apartments off campus, and commutes to campus.

Living on campus should be a choice, rather than Emerson forcing us to. Emerson should offer students housing if they need it, because many struggle to find housing in Boston. Emerson’s administration should not be the one to decide if a student struggles enough financially to choose a cheaper option than on-campus living.

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