Staff Editorial:A flawed fix to a housing mandate

There are thousands of affordable apartments in the District.

But administrators made waves over the summer when they announced students would have to wait until their senior year to go real estate shopping.

And although no current GW attendees will be affected by the new mandate, students were outraged. And for good reason.

Starting with the Class of 2018, students will be required to live on campus for three years instead of two – hiking up costs of living for students and padding GW’s bottom line. The University gets to count $2.3 million a year in added housing revenue, while some students will have to shell out nearly $1,000 more a month to live on campus.

GW might be looking to spend more on improving academics, research and student life. But generating revenue by requiring students to stay on campus is not a place to start.

GW gave some reason for optimism last week by pitching a potential compromise.

GW Housing officials said they were working with the Student Association to assuage student concerns about the cost of living on campus, allowing students to appeal the three-year mandate. Through this process, juniors could be permitted to either move off campus or live in sophomore housing – which is slightly cheaper – if they can demonstrate adequate financial need.

But don’t be distracted: This appeals process is nothing more than a flawed attempt by the University to reverse the wrongs of an illogical housing policy.

Failures of a new housing mandate

Seth Weinshel, director of GW Housing Programs, defended the new potential appeals process when he told The Hatchet, “We certainly don’t want to cause financial hardships for anybody.”

He said the University is considering adding cheaper sophomore housing to the slate of residence halls juniors can choose from, and that GW is trying to iron out an appeals process for students who can’t afford on-campus rates.

But he gave no specifics on how the appeals process would be carried out, adding skepticism as to whether or not it would work in practice and save students money.

The fact that the University has already discussed an appeals process for a policy that was announced just over a month ago demonstrates the serious failures of the new housing mandate. And it suggests that administrators would be wise to ditch the policy entirely as opposed to introducing reactive caveats that do nothing to alleviate the real problem.

By establishing a definitive metric to determine adequate financial “need,” the administration is attempting to interpret in concrete terms an issue that is actually engulfed in a gray area.

By the time students are juniors, they should be permitted to decide the most effective way to spend their money. In the past, students who saved money by living off campus could put that money toward other bills and costs of living.

Often, living off campus is a smarter financial decision – and the University’s appeals process to the new housing mandate does nothing to change the reality that how students save and spend is being restricted.

In other areas, GW recognizes the need for upperclassmen to have freedom: After freshman year, the amount of money students are required to spend at J Street, for example, disappears. And older students are granted higher priority – and therefore, more choice – in course registration.

Why doesn’t a similar focus on freedom apply to housing?

And this appeals process won’t only affect juniors. It will also affect sophomores. If some juniors are going to be placed in sophomore residence halls, will sophomore housing become more crowded as a result, forcing triples and quads in rooms originally meant for two or three people? And will housing costs remain the same despite the clear demotion?

The constant price hikes, usually about 3 percent a year to account for inflation and upgrades, only makes the situation even more unaffordable for students.

A contradictory marketing strategy

The University’s marketing strategy revolves in large part around a student’s ability to attend school while having an open door to the real world: internships, congressional hearings, museums, classes taught by Ben Bernanke and José Andrés.

People come here to take advantage of those choices. But when it comes to housing, the administration is taking that choice away from 20-year-old adults. An appeals process to this strange decision does nothing to help the situation.

Administrators claim that forcing more students to live in University-owned residence halls will help GW’s otherwise lacking sense of community. But the reality is that by placing housing choices in the hands of University leaders instead of students, GW is further tampering with students’ so-called “GW experience.” The move is in complete dissonance with the very freedom associated with GW – and the opportunities of D.C. – which draws many students to the University.

The move hurts students. A potential appeals process might move the needle slightly, but it does nothing to change that overall truth.

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