Kelly Skinner: GW should get creative to make housing affordable

GW has never been known as an affordable university, but rising campus housing costs are making it even pricier.

One of GW’s peer institutions, New York University, is tackling college housing affordability in a creative way. NYU, like GW, is one of the most expensive universities in the country and is situated in a city with an extremely high cost of living. Andrew Hamilton, NYU’s president, announced the university will pilot a program that would pair NYU upperclassmen and graduate students with elderly residents in a nearby housing complex. This could lower these students’ housing costs by up to 50 percent. GW doesn’t seem to have any creative plans like this one to help lower the cost of housing.

GW’s costly on-campus housing may drive away prospective students who are not confident that they will receive enough financial aid to be able to pay live on campus, which students are required to do for three years. To combat this affordability issue, GW should search for creative solutions, like NYU’s, to lower housing costs.

As of 2014, GW requires traditional undergraduate students to live on campus through their junior years. This makes most students dependent on the University’s housing prices for at least three undergraduate years. Due to the fact that GW has taken the option of living off campus away from many students, the University has an obligation to come up with inventive ways to keep prices down.

Other schools besides NYU have implemented programs in which students can live with elderly people. The Cleveland Institute of Music has an artists-in-residence program, in which students who receive financial aid can put on recitals for the elderly in exchange for a free room. These programs have provided benefits to both elderly and student participants: Elderly residents gain companionship, and students have mentor figures and lower-priced living arrangements.

GW should work to combat rising prices by starting a small, optional, intergenerational home stay pilot program like the one at NYU. That way the University can gauge the level of interest as well as work out any kinks in the technicalities of the program before opening it up to more students. They can also model their program off the one successfully implemented in Cleveland.

However, rather than limiting participants to those on financial aid the way the Cleveland program does, GW should make this an option for all students. Rising housing costs affect everyone, and the amount of financial aid received is not always a good indicator of a student’s ability to pay, nor the amount of loans he or she will need to take out.

According to the College Board, room and board has risen from an average of $6,206 – adjusted for inflation – in 1986 to $10,304 in 2016. At GW, housing is even more expensive, with only limited first-year housing rates below or near the national average.

And Sandy Baum, a researcher of higher education finances at the Urban Institute and a former professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, has written that universities might raise room and board prices to slow the increase of their tuition prices.

The problem of college affordability is much larger than the rising cost of housing, but many other issues will take a lot longer and be a lot harder to solve. A program like this one would be relatively simple to enact, so GW could implement it in the next five years.

GW needs to take steps to provide alternatives to their pricey residence halls, as NYU is doing, if officials want to continue to attract undergraduate students.

Kelly Skinner, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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