The most competitive time of the year is here again at Cornell, and it has nothing to do with prelims, externships or career fairs. Finally, house hunting season is upon us.
Much attention has been recently paid to the West Campus Residential Initiative, and there’s no doubt the housing overhaul was sorely needed. Still, all this back-patting has distracted us from the fact that West Campus hosts only 1,800 students, while over 50 percent of the University continues to live off campus.
With interest rates on student loans rising and families financially strapped, many students currently turn to off-campus housing as a way to cut costs. And it’s easy to see why. For the 2008-2009 academic year, a double room in any residence hall aside from the Townhouses will cost you $6,950, beginning in August and ending in May. When you subtract the weeks students are closed out of their dorms for winter break, that shared bedroom is costing you about $770 per month. Even in the cutthroat monopoly that is Collegetown, that price will get you some pretty sweet digs — if not Park Place, maybe a nice flat on Linden.
Yet in their rush to save money, many Cornellians end up leaving the dorms for sub-par housing, feeling swindled and saddled with 12-month leases. And for those freshmen unaware that the blood sport of lease-signing begins only a few short weeks after they move in on North, the Greek system can become their only option.
Living in a fraternity or sorority house can be a great experience, but spring rush comes right when students are feeling the pressure to find housing for next fall. West Campus may be great, but the attraction of free beer and (presumably) a bunch of other things can lead freshmen away from Keaton House and toward the hedonism of Greek living. By allowing rush to disrupt freshman year, Cornell is undermining its own Residential Initiative, interfering in the North Campus experience and reducing West Campus to a back-up, not a first choice.
If the University is unable to provide housing for over half its students, it should be willing to take responsibility for making sure rising sophomores are fully aware of their options. A forum should be established for students to post about their own living conditions, whether costs may be negotiable and when their landlords begin showing apartments for next year.
And at the very least, the University should back up its claimed desire to create inclusive communities in upperclassman dorms by finding a way to make those dorms cost competitive with off-campus alternatives. Otherwise, students who need savings the most will be the ones heading for the (East) hills and away from Cornell’s idyllic West Campus system.