The American college housing system strives to make the transitional period between high school and college easier for students. Living in dorms with room and board built into their tuition, many residential students don’t have to worry about financial stresses like rent or electricity bills. Dining halls often provide three warm meals a day, meaning students never go hungry and rarely have to make a trip to the grocery store. However, ask anyone who’s ever lived in a dorm, and they’ll likely have some complaints. On the surface, America’s college housing system makes life easier for students – but could it really be doing the opposite?
During freshman year, many students may struggle to make new friends, leaving them feeling isolated and anxious. To combat this loneliness, many colleges require their students to share a room with at least one other person. While this may seem like a great solution to the first-year blues, the roommate approach may actually be counteractive. Many freshmen report having conflicts with their roommate, as well as general anxiety about living with another person. As it turns out, living in a room with a complete stranger doesn’t alleviate the stress and fear of leaving home. In many cases, it actually makes it significantly worse.
Furthermore, the majority of college students are not freshmen. Still, if sophomores, juniors, and seniors want to live on campus, they are often required to have a roommate. Students in their twenties still have to deal with being crammed into double rooms like sardines, oftentimes having to meet a different roommate every year. College is meant to be a time for learning and fostering independence; both of which are nearly impossible when cramped into such close quarters with another person.
Then, as if moving away from home, living with a complete stranger, and worrying about final exams isn’t enough stress, the college housing system requires students to return home for breaks, taking all of their belongings with them. Even if a student plans to continue their studies the following semester, they are often not allowed to live in the dorms over the summer, or even to leave anything in their dorm. In fact, students usually have a completely different dorm room, if not building, every school year. Moving is often cited as one of the most stressful life events that a person can undergo. Not only do students have to move all of their personal belongings out, a difficult task on its own, but many students live far away from their college campuses, making moving even more difficult. Moving can also be extremely expensive, especially for those students who must travel long distances. Yet, the American college housing system expects students to move twice a year, while still maintaining a high GPA and a healthy social life.
Once these students move out for the summer, where do they go? The college housing system acts under the presumption that everyone has a safe home to go to over Thanksgiving, winter, and summer break. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. For many students, college is their escape from abusive families and unsafe homes. Some students, particularly adult students, don’t have a home to return to for break at all. Landlords often require tenants to lease for at least six months, if not a year. So, finding housing for just three months every summer can prove extremely difficult. Still, every summer, college students all across the country are faced with the issue of possible homelessness.
Even if these students find housing for only three months out of the year, can they afford it? Students are often required to be full-time if they want to live on campus, leaving very little time for them to make money during the school year. Over the summer, students have more free time, but finding a job may still prove difficult. Like landlords, employers are often seeking long-term employees, meaning that a well-qualified college student may still get rejected in turn for a residential employee. College is meant to help students jumpstart their career paths, but may ultimately hinder job experience as students are constantly forced to move back and forth.
Of course, the American college housing system is far from perfect. However, as a residential college student, I am immensely grateful for the housing opportunities I have been given. Even with its flaws, college housing is a necessity that should by no means be completely eradicated. Without residential housing, many students may never be able to attend in-person college classes at all. Simply put, the college housing system needs to improve. Rather than placing students in sardine-style dorm rooms and constantly forcing them to move, the college housing system must adapt and evolve to suit the needs of its students. If presidents of colleges nationwide can collaborate with students and staff to re-evaluate several aspects of college housing, there may still be hope for this outdated system to change for the better.