Grad student housing squeeze likely to last

Graduate students forced to deal with outdated electrical outlets, bursting pipes and snapping elevator cables count themselves lucky: At least they are able to live on campus.

Despite a rising demand for on-campus housing among graduate students, the supply of available space — most of which is dated and not renovated — has remained constant for decades. And the situation is not likely to change in the near future.

Never renovated, the Hall of Graduate Studies holds classrooms and graduate student rooms. Fewer graduate students are living on campus than ever before.
Salvador Andrade
Never renovated, the Hall of Graduate Studies holds classrooms and graduate student rooms. Fewer graduate students are living on campus than ever before.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler estimated that it could take longer than a decade for the University to increase and improve graduate housing, although Yale has already tentatively devoted $122 million to renovating the 75-year-old Hall of Graduate Studies, according to budget projections.

By 2011, the University’s $700 million renovation of the 12 undergraduate residential colleges will be complete. And, if the Yale Corporation gives the go-ahead, two new colleges, carrying a $600 million price tag, may be on their way as well.

But, as of now, no detailed plans have emerged for a similar expansion in graduate student housing.

“Our graduate student housing is from 50 to 80 years old, and it was designed at a time when graduate students lived in styles that no longer pertain,” Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said.

Graduate students living on campus primarily reside in HGS, Hadley Hall and apartments owned by the University and Butler said new housing could be built on Science Hill to reflect the distribution of the graduate student population. Any new housing would be an improvement over existing housing, he said.

When demand exceeds supply

The increase in demand for housing is due to the growing number of international students at Yale, the desire for a social community among graduate students and the ease of on-campus living.

There were 866 applications for 65 vacancies in on-campus apartments and 555 applications for 320 vacancies in on-campus dormitories during the 2007-2008 school year, Director of Graduate and Professional Student Housing George Longyear said. Longyear said demand has exceeded supply of on-campus housing for the past five years, but exact numbers for earlier years are unavailable.

The University currently houses a lower percentage of its graduate and professional students than almost ever before. According to Yale’s Office of Institutional Research, in the 1982-1983 school year, the first year for which numbers are available, 25.9 percent of full-time graduate and professional students lived in University housing. In the 2006-2007 school year, just 15.4 percent of students were housed on-campus.

Director of the Office of Student Life at the Graduate School’s MacDougal Center Lisa Brandes said international students have a more difficult time than American students in finding off-campus housing, and so are more drawn to University-operated properties.

“Can you imagine coming from a foreign country and having to find an apartment? They can’t come and visit, they can’t come in the summer and look for an apartment,” Brandes said.

The number of international students within the Graduate School and all professional schools within Yale has increased almost 3 percent since the 1996-1997 school year, according to the OIR.

‘A slap in the face’

At the tail end of the undergraduate college renovations, some graduate students interviewed said the fact that HGS has never undergone the same type of large-scale renovation as many other facilities at Yale and the lack of plans for new housing in the near future indicate that graduate and professional students are an afterthought to University administrators.

“People see housing as symptomatic of the overall idea that graduate students come after the undergraduates,” Bobbi Sutherland GRD ’09, president of the Graduate Student Assembly, said. “It’s sort of like a slap in the face.”

But Butler said the University’s financial support of its graduate students — which he estimated amounts to approximately $250,000 over the course of six years — makes it clear that graduate students are not undervalued.

“Graduate students receive unprecedented financial aid from the University that is among the best in the nation, so it’s hard to imagine that graduate students are not valued in the Yale community,” Butler said.

Members of the Graduate Student Assembly said they have brought up the housing shortage in meetings with University President Richard Levin, the Provost’s Office and the Yale Corporation. But Sutherland said administrators expressed no commitment to increase on-campus housing options.

Assembly Housing Committee and HGS Residence Board member Gwen Bradford GRD ’09 said residents in HGS have had to deal with a host of mishaps in recent years.

“The heating system leaves a lot to be desired — let’s put it that way,” Bradford said. “The elevator in the tower has broken down — the cable snapped recently. Two or three years ago, a pipe burst and caused a pretty disastrous flood on the 12th floor. It’s high time for some of these things to be looked at and carefully repaired and replaced.”

A ‘meeting place’

Administrators say Yale has made an effort to increase a sense of community within the graduate school over the last decade.

In 1997 the Graduate School opened the McDougal Graduate Student Center, a social gathering area for graduate students and postdoctoral candidates. On-campus graduate apartments have organized play groups for children of residents. These efforts could be one explanation for the increased appeal of on-campus living, Brandes said.

“It’s like the residential colleges,” Brandes said. “It’s a meeting place for people with a wide variety of backgrounds.”

Other benefits of living in on-campus housing include cheaper rent, proximity to central campus and location on the Yale shuttle bus line, she said.

Office of International Students and Scholars Director Ann Kuhlman said her office will advocate for increased graduate student housing in the years to come.

“There’s agreement across the board of the benefits of living in University housing for the first year,” Kuhlman said. “I, among others, would advocate trying to — if not increase the housing stock — certainly try and increase the kind of community that a residential living situation does provide.”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand why the university doesn't get their act together on grad student housing. The stuff offered by the university is in bad shape, generally poorly located, and you typically have to purchase a meal plan. Also, the market for apartments near campus is terrible: everything is overpriced and in poor condition. I know this is a sweeping generalization and there are exceptions to it, but it's fairly close to the general impression that us grad students here have. Even Harvard has over the past few decades invested significantly in university-owned apartments for graduate students.

    What I think the university should do is embark on a building campaign of lots of gleaming new apartments for graduate students. There's plenty of open land near campus, such as university-owned surface parking lots. Also, why doesn't every new building have 5-10 floors of grad student apartments on top of it? The brand new sculpture building could have easily had housing on top of it, for example. Maybe the neighbors would object, saying it's out of the scale of the neighborhood, but then someone should tell them there's no better way to make their neighborhood more vibrant and more safe than by injecting hundreds of pedestrian-based intelligent young people into it.

  • Anonymous

    HGS is the least of anyone's worries. Undergrads should get tours of Helen Hadley Hall, and maybe they'd quit whining about not being able to squeeze multiple couches into their suite's common room.