This year, over 40 percent of seniors are living off campus, leaving administrators scrambling for a solution as the center of campus continues to shift away from the residential colleges.
This fall, 43.5 percent of all seniors and 24.7 percent of juniors are living off campus. More seniors are living off campus this year than in the previous two years, while the percentage of juniors has dipped slightly in the same period. Still, the past decade has seen a relative increase in the percentage of students living off campus, prompting administrators to consider significant changes to the residential college system in an effort to retain students on campus. Since becoming Yale College Dean last July, Marvin Chun has made improving residential college life a main priority.
“Really strengthening and enhancing residential college life is a big goal that I have,” Chun told the News last month. “And trying to address concerns that students have about dining is something I continue to work on.”
Chun has floated several strategies for keeping students on campus, such as late-night dining options and mixed-college housing. According to Chun, the Council of the Heads of College is currently developing a proposal to allocate a block of housing for students in different colleges. However, the Dean’s Office will wait to consider potential implementation of the proposal until the 320 York St. Humanities Center project is complete, as most existing space is currently being used to house faculty offices during the renovation.
The Council of the Heads of College is also considering ways to make the application process for transferring residential colleges “less burdensome,” Chun said.
“There’s not much I can do about students moving off campus this year, so it’s not a heavy emphasis,” Chun said. “But starting the following year when we start regaining some of our spaces that are currently being used as swing office spaces, I would love to have some kind of mixed-college housing option for students on campus.”
Last year, 39.8 percent of seniors and 26.2 percent of juniors lived off campus. And in the 2016-17 school year, a record 17.2 percent of all students — 41.5 percent of seniors and 28 percent of juniors — lived off campus. Meanwhile, between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years, fewer than 13 percent of all students lived off campus.
According to the Yale College Council’s most recent Fall Survey data, 59 percent of students said they would consider moving off campus. Among survey respondents who currently reside off campus, the most common reason for wanting to move off campus was the ability to cook. Other common motivations were the cost of the meal plan, the quality of food and the ability to live with people in other residential colleges. Still, in a News survey of the class of 2022 this fall, just 5 percent of first years who responded said that they intend to move off campus.
YCC President Saloni Rao ’20 told the News that a YCC Senate project on residential college life is currently working to address students’ concerns with their residential college experiences. According to Rao, colleges vary in the quality of their facilities, event programming and policies — such as keeping dining halls open as study spaces. The YCC is working to resolve these inconsistencies and improve the transfer application process, Rao said.
But not all student leaders support plans to improve the residential college experience. Others, such as Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, favor abandoning the system altogether.
In a September debate at the Yale Political Union, Catalbasoglu urged the University to abandon its signature residential college system and transform dormitories into taxable, mixed-use property. Catalbasoglu argued that turning residential colleges into renovated dorms that also house businesses would allow New Haven to collect property taxes and boost the city’s finances.
Last year, Chun told the News that historically at least 10 percent of upper-level students will always want to move off campus for reasons that Yale cannot accommodate, such as a desire to cook for themselves. Some students, particularly rising juniors, have moved off campus in the past for fear of being assigned to annex housing, but the two new colleges mostly eliminated that problem, Chun told the News last year.
Students interviewed by the News also said they were interested in living off campus for financial reasons.
“I think residential housing is way too expensive for what they actually give you,” Asher Liftin ‘21 said.
Liftin added that Yale dorms lack air conditioning, kitchens and privacy — which seems to be unreflected in their price. Off-campus housing is also easier to manage, Liftin said, as students do not have to move their belongings in and out consistently.
“Living in Yale dorms blurs the line between home and school which affects the ability to feel independent and a sense of stability,” Liftin added.
But Ava Vanech ‘21 said she plans to continue living in her residential college next year because “Trumbull is just a nice place to live.”
“It’s very centrally located to both classes and stores/restaurants,” she added. “The buildings are of course beautiful, the courtyard is nice, and the suites are clean and decently sized.”
There are currently 5,453 undergraduate students enrolled at Yale.
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