Soaring housing costs stretch already-strapped college students

Soaring housing costs stretch already-strapped college students

October 20, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


JUDY WOODRUFF: The burden of student debt
is getting more attention in this election cycle. One key part of the problem is the rising
cost of student housing. Between 1989 and 2017, room and board on and
off campuses went up by more than 82 percent at four-year public universities. Correspondent Hari Sreenivasan recently traveled
to Philadelphia to see how college students there are coping with housing costs. It’s the latest in our special series on Rethinking
College and part of our regular education segment, Making the Grade. HARI SREENIVASAN: Badia Weeks loves spending
time in the pool with her young students. The 19-year-old teaches swim lessons five
days a week while attending Philadelphia’s Temple University. She’s a junior majoring in exercise and sports
medicine. Weeks is doing well academically. She has a 3.5 GPA. But outside of the classroom, she’s struggling. BADIA WEEKS, College Student: For this apartment,
it’s about $6,000 a semester, which, honestly, I feel like isn’t worth what I get. Me and my roommate both pay that, so it’s
like we’re paying $1,500 a month each. HARI SREENIVASAN: The two-bedroom, one-bath
apartment was assigned to her by Temple after she transferred last spring from a nearby
private college. Weeks, who is on her own financially, covers
her tuition through scholarships and her part-time wages. She says she tried hard to get into a cheaper
apartment near campus, but didn’t have any luck. Affordable housing options are becoming increasingly
hard to find. Apartment rents in Philadelphia have gone
up 25 percent over the past decade. So, several months ago, she took out a private
loan for $5,000 to pay for her housing. BADIA WEEKS: It’s upsetting. Having to be in debt just to live on campus,
I feel like is a little ridiculous. HARI SREENIVASAN: She’s not the only one going
into debt for housing. A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
analysis found that, for many students, living costs exceed and even dwarf the cost of tuition
and fees. SARA GOLDRICK-RAB, Temple University: It’s
a very serious problem. HARI SREENIVASAN: Sara Goldrick-Rab is a professor
of higher education policy and sociology at Temple who studies housing costs. SARA GOLDRICK-RAB: We estimate that approximately
one in two undergraduates is finding their housing to be unaffordable. The most typical thing that we will hear is
a student who says, I’m going to have trouble paying my rent this month. They don’t necessarily eat every day. Or they aren’t able to come to class every
day because they cut the money that they would have spent, let’s say, on gas for the car
or on the subway. HARI SREENIVASAN: Our perception of college
is, you know, students living in a building, ivy-covered walls. That’s not the norm. SARA GOLDRICK-RAB: That is vanishingly rare
in today’s colleges and universities, to the point that only about 12 percent to 13 percent
of the nation’s undergraduates actually reside on a college campus. HARI SREENIVASAN: Last year, Goldrick-Rab
founded The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, a research center dedicated to
finding solutions for the financial and logistical barriers that prevent students from graduating. At Temple, there are efforts to assist food-insecure
students, and a university care team helps connect students in a housing crisis to emergency
funding. WOMAN: We have been able to support them also
then with the resources of our counseling center. HARI SREENIVASAN: But one of the biggest challenges
here, and at many other universities, is the lack of affordable housing on campus. Goldrick-Rab says public colleges and universities,
facing budget cuts, see food and housing as revenue streams. SARA GOLDRICK-RAB: If you begin to see housing
as a profit center, then you begin to charge students more and more simply because you
can. The other thing is that a growing number of
schools are really trying to attract a certain kind of student and family. It’s a family with a lot more disposable income,
and it’s a family that is going to pay more tuition with less financial aid. So the residence hall rooms for students are
larger than they used to be. The amenities are more substantial. HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s a similar story off-campus. New luxury buildings are catering to wealthier
students around Temple and other college campuses around the country. But not everyone can afford that kind of living
experience. One out of four people in the city of Philadelphia
live below the poverty line, so you would think this would be an affordable place to
live. Philadelphia also has another distinction,
however, which is the second most number of colleges and universities of any city in the
nation. And that makes affordable housing hard to
come by, whether you’re at a big four-year university or even a two-year community college. Just steps away from downtown, 26,000 students
attend the Community College of Philadelphia. Like most two-year schools, housing is not
offered. A 2018 study by Goldrick-Rab and her colleagues
found nearly 20 percent of the school’s students were experiencing homelessness, and more than
half were housing insecure. THOMAS, College Student: Everything. I’m not ashamed to say that, shelters, couch
surfing. And it’s been things that I had to do. HARI SREENIVASAN: Thomas, who prefers to go
only by his first name, is one of those without a consistent roof over his head. He’s a first-year student who works in the
campus bookshop, but says he can’t save enough to get an apartment. THOMAS: The deposit is unreal. The deposit is three times the rent. I can’t even manage the one-time rent that
I’m trying to manage from work, let alone have the money to save for it. It just isn’t practical. HARI SREENIVASAN: A new program, in an old
convent, hopes to help at-risk students like Thomas. SANDRA GUILLORY, Depaul USA: So this
will be a typical room. Students will have fully furnished beds, desks,
dressers, and they all have their shared sink with shared bathrooms. HARI SREENIVASAN: Sandra Guillory is the Philadelphia
director of Depaul USA, a nonprofit focused on homelessness. They plan to rehab this convent to house 24
students from colleges across Philadelphia. Students will be asked to pay $150 a month. SANDRA GUILLORY: Our top priorities are students
in their final years of school, so third, fourth, fifth, years of school. They have the most student loan debt, and
if they dropped out of school today, they would have that debt, and no degree, and they’d
be worse off than if they had never gone to school. HARI SREENIVASAN: The $17,000 it will cost
to house and feed each student per year will be split between the students, the city of
Philadelphia and private donations. SANDRA GUILLORY: If we can get them to graduate,
they will never have to worry about homelessness hopefully ever again, poverty. Their children won’t have to worry about this. HARI SREENIVASAN: For her part, Temple’s Badia
Weeks is hoping to squeeze in more hours in the pool this semester, so she can save up
and possibly avoid another housing loan next semester. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan
in Philadelphia. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, by the way, the new housing
program at the old convent is expected to open to students in January.