Yale College Dean Marvin Chun has made it a priority to entice more upper-level students to live on campus. Still, this year about 26.2 percent of juniors and 39.8 percent of seniors live in non-Yale housing, according to University data.
A News survey distributed last month found that off-campus juniors and seniors moved out of the residential colleges for a variety of reasons — to have more independence, to get off the Yale Dining plan and to save money. A total of 1,299 undergraduates responded to the survey — roughly 24 percent of the University’s undergraduate population — and the results were not adjusted for bias.
In recent years, the Yale College Dean’s Office has launched a number of initiatives to entice upper-level students to stay in the residential colleges. Last April, former Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the News that the University deliberately made the process of transferring to Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges easy in order to pull some off-campus students back to campus and retain those who may have otherwise moved out.
Since he took the deanship last July, Chun has considered strategies to keep more students on campus, soliciting ideas from students and administrators across the University. At a recent town hall, he discussed several radical ideas to address the off-campus housing issue, such as turning Old Campus into housing for seniors. A smaller version of that proposal, which would turn McClellan Hall into mixed senior housing, might go into place soon.
“We have to make living on campus cool again,” Chun said at the town hall.
Pressed on the cost of room and board at Yale, Chun said Yale could not subsidize housing any further. He also suggested expanding late-night dining options and streamlining the college transfer process as ways to encourage students to stay on campus.
Of the respondents to the News survey who said they currently live off campus, more than two-thirds said they decided to do so to have more independence, 67 percent said that they were dissatisfied with the meal plan or dining hall hours and a little over half cited a desire to save money. (Respondents were allowed to select more than one option.)
Around a third of the respondents also cited a feeling of disconnection from peers in their colleges and a desire to live with friends from other colleges as reasons for moving out of their dorm rooms.
“These reasons are consistent with what I am hearing from [Yale College Council] and from individual students,” Chun told the News. “The heads and I want to attract these students back to campus so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the residential colleges.”
Lauren McNeel ’18 said she moved off campus to live with friends from other residential colleges and because of her frustration with the limited options in the residential college housing process.
She added that the only way to make campus living more appealing to upper-level students would be to allow them to live more independently — for instance, by letting them live on Old Campus and allowing housing to be mixed among residential colleges. She also said Yale should focus on redesigning and refurnishing dorm rooms with home-style bathrooms and kitchenettes, as well as single bedrooms for upper-level students.
“I longed for the independence that could be offered off campus — you can host your own events, furnish and decorate your own bedroom, clean your own bathroom and cook in your own kitchen,” McNeel said. “I also appreciate that off-campus life isn’t mixed with underclassmen and first years: There is less pressure to ‘stay quiet’ after 11 p.m. or refrain from drinking around certain students.”
Tevin Mickens ’18 also noted the lack of certain amenities, such as a personal kitchen and elevators in Yale’s colleges, as one of the reasons he moved off campus. He said he moved out after spending almost an entire year living alone, first during a summer internship and then during a semester abroad.
Mickens added that given the benefit of “solid amenities” offered in his apartment building, he did not have much incentive to stay in his residential college.
Emma Garcia ’19, who lives off campus, said she would enjoy living “somewhere like the old Swing Space” and having a five-meal-a-week Yale Dining plan, as having a kitchenette and a few suitemates while staying close to her college “would have been a much easier way to have a bit more independence while still having the ease of living on campus.” In the past, suites in Swing Space — which is currently under renovation — came with kitchenettes, air conditioning and bathtubs.
Paige Hollis ’19 said that perhaps the biggest reason she moved off-campus was the overall cost of room and board at Yale, which will come out to roughly $16,000 next academic year. She added that being able to cook her own meals and not having to bother a roommate with her schedule due to her extracurricular demands also contributed to her decision.
“I do not receive financial aid through Yale and want to avoid taking out loans, and living off campus is so much cheaper, there really isn’t any competition,” she said. “I valued being able to sleep in peace without bothering a roommate with my schedule. Having my own room in an apartment off campus was the best option for that. I don’t particularly like how loud campus gets in Wednesday nights when I have to be up at 5 a.m. Thursdays.”
Of the respondents living off-campus, 91.27 percent indicated that they are “happy” or “very happy” about their decision. Some, however, have found the experience somewhat isolating.
Pamela Torola ’18 said that as a low-income student on nearly full financial aid, she had a hard time balancing school work with trying to save up money for the various expenses she incurred at Yale. As a sophomore, she said, she calculated that by living off-campus “far enough away,” she would save $2,000 to $3,000 a semester. Moving off campus during her junior year allowed her to pay off a loan she took to fund a summer Spanish program, lower her semester work hours and afford on-campus housing expenses as a senior. However, she said she did not enjoy the experience.
“The problem with living off-campus was that none of my friends had any want or financial need to,” Torola said. “I was fairly lonely, because I spend a lot of time studying and the only times I regularly saw my friends in prior years were meals and in our suite. … My feelings of not belonging to Yale were intensified by this fairly isolating experience, even though I’d technically inflicted the isolation on myself.”
She added that as she struggled with her mental health, she found it hard to take care of herself “during the most strenuous parts of the semester” and that planning meals and running back and forth between campus and her house was exhausting.
Ultimately, Torola said, she returned to Jonathan Edwards College for her senior year, happy that her off-campus living was over.
“Ever since finding out what Yale was and what a residential college was [during] my senior year of high school, I’ve been in love with this system, which provides me a space full of people whom I recognize and with whom I share a bond,” Torola said. “I just wish I could’ve been fully part of it all four years.”
Ninety-seven percent of Harvard students choose to live on campus in one of the 12 houses, according to Harvard’s website.
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