Independence gained off campus

Molly Emmett

The priority of any institution for higher education is to endow knowledge and to allow students to explore intellectual interests. Yet at a college like Whitman, with few commuting students, there are other needs that must be met: food and shelter.

According to the Whitman Financial Aid webpage, for the 2011-2012 school year, tuition for students living on campus is $52,056. Of that, $10,160 is allocated for room and board.

As part of Whitman’s policy, students under the age of 21 are required to live on campus for four semesters. Options for on-campus living include nine residence halls and 11 interest houses, with the exception of fraternity houses for initiated sophomores.

Infographic by Huang

Sophomore Joel Senecal lives in College House, one of the residence halls offered to upper-class students. College House is on the edge of campus, near the Bratton Tennis Center and offers everything from traditional doubles to a six-person conjoined apartment with a kitchen.

“Currently, I feel very well provided for by Whitman. I have a great deal of amenities, and a wide variety of living options,” said Senecal.

Though Whitman owns College House and most of the other residence options, the business-like entity that runs the halls is Residence Life and Housing, an “auxiliary enterprise” independent from Whitman funding.

“Anything that will be used in the residences: even toilet paper: we buy,” said Nancy Tavelli, director of residence life and housing. “We are expected by Whitman to pay our own way.”

Because no Whitman funding is given to Residence Life, they create a budget every year so that they charge students exactly what will be used. Room charges go towards maintenance, utilities such as internet and heat, custodial and employee paychecks, any services provided by the physical plant and the programming put on by the hall and house staff members.”

According to Tavelli, with all the included amenities, a regular double (or any room in an interest house) costs about $391 per month over 12 months.

“That’s looking at room rent for the year, because if you rent a place, it’s not usually 12 months,” said Tavelli.
Residence Life indeed plays a large part in the campus community, but after students have lived on campus for four semesters, many choose to move outside “the bubble.”

A common notion among college students, their parents and even faculty is that when students decide to live off campus, they are taking their first step into the adult world, where they have to pay for their own necessities.

“I think it’s a learning experience for the students. When they’re done with school, they’re [again] going to be looking for a place to live,” said Cindy Russell, the trust coordinator at the Off-Campus Housing Office.

For many students, living off campus is less expensive than paying Whitman room and board charges. For students wanting to rent housing, there are two options: the first is to rent a house or apartment from an independent landlord, as junior Sally Boggan does.

Boggan lives in “Troy,” a house on Isaacs, with seven other students.   Maintenance is covered by the landlord, but they all pay about $20-30 per month for utilities, and split the rent depending on their room type.

“My rent is $280 a month, because I’m living in a closet,” said Boggan. “Everyone else here pays $320, which is still a lot cheaper [than on-campus costs].”

Boggan has also found that buying her own food is less costly than being on a meal plan. She uses about $800 a semester, whereas Bon Appetit’s traditional Meal Plan C costs $2,730 a semester.

At first, Boggan’s parents were skeptical about the transition from on-campus to off-campus living.

“My parents were worried about it because it’s more out-of-pocket costs and nothing from loans,” she said.

But once Boggan showed her parents the numbers in comparison to on-campus costs, they agreed to finance her off-campus living.

Another upperclassman who lives off campus is senior Ryan Smith. Smith lives with two friends in one side of a Whitman-owned duplex called “The Hole in the Wall.” After renting from an independent owner last year, Smith entered Whitman’s housing lottery for this school year and eventually ended up with his current abode.

The lottery is run every spring by Russell. There are 37 Whitman-owned housing units to choose from, and availability changes from year to year. Rent varies by number of bedrooms, but is between $300 and $450 per month.

Smith and his duplex-mates pay about $850 per month, which, divided among the three of them, is a little over $280 per month. Heating and water utilities are included in the rent, and the Off-Campus Housing Office takes care of maintenance.

Groceries are about $200 per month, which is also cheaper than a meal plan, but Smith says he often eats at Reid or in the dining halls because the food there is good and it takes longer to make his own.

“I really like the idea of Whitman-owned houses,” said Smith. “They help people save money and offer a different type of residence life.”

Both Russell and Smith agree that while living off campus may actually be cheaper, students do it for the sense of freedom it offers.