Housing arrangements vary widely here on campus: Some are ramshackle and old, some are luxuriously new; some are centrally located near Baker-Berry Library and Collis Center, some are practically in Vermont. Some dorm clusters have convenient snack bars and plenty of places to study, others force students to take a 10-minute walk to get food and feature a single study room in the basement accompanied by the lovely sounds and scents of washers and dryers. Despite these differences, every student who lives in a college-owned dorm or apartment currently pays the same price of $3,048 per term.
The prices students pay for housing should reflect the variations in dorm quality at Dartmouth. The River dorms should be priced on the lower end because the buildings are far from the central hub of campus, and the Choates and Wheeler should also be cheaper because of how old their amenities are. On the other hand, the McLaughlin cluster and Fahey-McLane should cost more because of amenities such as single-occupancy showers, relatively modern construction or their convenient location.
Ask any person whether they would prefer a single or a one-room double, provided the cost is the same, and almost everyone would choose the single. You can share a room with your best friend, but ultimately, privacy is a valuable asset when students are constantly around each other all day. These issues are multiplied for students in triples and quads. Other universities such as the University of California, Los Angeles and Boston College charge students different fees depending on the number of occupants per room. UCLA even has separate fees for students who can choose the number of occupants per room and the quality of room, which ranges from “classic” — rooms with no air conditioning and communal floor bathrooms — to “residential plazas,” which feature air-conditioned rooms with private bathrooms.
At Dartmouth, only the McLaughlin, Fahey-McLane and East Wheelock dormitories have air conditioning capabilities. However, cooling is only turned on in the summer. Students living anywhere else must go through the summer without air conditioning and must “cope as best they can with temporarily uncomfortable working conditions.” The school website also encourages occupants to use fans and open their windows in the heat.
In addition, Dartmouth needs increased transparency regarding its online portrayal of dormitories. In the virtual tour on the Dartmouth website, only McLaughlin rooms are shown, which are arguably the most modern rooms on campus. This is in stark contrast to the cinder block, almost prison-like housing much of the rest of campus has. Our school housing is incorrectly represented online, which may dampen prospective students’ expectations when they arrive on campus in the fall. The College borders on false advertising when it lists the singular $3,048 price tag. Students may assume they will be assigned to a dorm room with the modernity of a McLaughlin room, but incoming first-years are much more likely to end up in the Choates or the River.
While charging everyone a single flat rate is easy, it is far from fair. Generally speaking, older dorms are more centrally located and newer dorms are on the edge of campus, this trade-off in convenience could theoretically balance out the cost. Yet dorms such as the River and Fahey-McLane do not follow this rule, so some students get the best of both worlds while others get nothing.
Charging students varying prices based on housing could potentially lead to separation of students by socioeconomic status. Wealthier students would choose the best dorms, leaving everyone else the “leftovers.” However, financial aid should cover students in need. For students whose financial aid includes supplements for housing, the College should cover a certain percentage of the cost, rather than a fixed monetary amount. This way, students can decide whether they want to spend a little extra money on better housing or save that money for other purchases, but the cost of moving to better housing should not be prohibitive to most.
This change in dorm pricing could also disrupt the recently established housing communities and make the distribution of housing among them more equitable. Currently, upperclassmen in a certain house community must reside in a select few buildings, and the range of housing quality is varied among communities. For example, the East Wheelock cluster has uniformly new housing, but the North Park cluster next door has equally uniformly mediocre housing. If dorm prices are varied, each housing community could and should be reworked to include a better mix of housing options within.
Charging students prices that actually reflect differences in housing circumstances is a way of mitigating housing inequalities on campus. Extending the current lottery system of housing for upperclassmen to all students, including first-years, and allowing students to choose housing in that way would increase freedom in choosing where and with whom to live, relative to the price they want to pay. Entire first-year dorm buildings are not necessary; first-year-only floors would suffice for increased support and a smoother transition to college life. By acknowledging the difference between singles and quads, age and location of dorms, the College can promote students’ right to choose where to live.