As someone who has lived in a variety of dorms as well as off-campus, I can confidently say that there is an advantage to living off-campus. For starters — the food. You no longer have to go to Stav for every meal, and most likely have your own kitchen and fridge. Furthermore, most off campus Oles have their own bedrooms, as well as a shared living room, yards, parking, etc. I believe being in a dorm as an underclassman is an integral part of the college experience, especially at St. Olaf, but it’s just not the same as being in a house. Beyond that, there are a number of students with health issues and dietary restrictions who would benefit greatly from having their own space and kitchen.
Unfortunately, St. Olaf is very strict regarding who is allowed to live off campus. In previous years, seniors and students with medical needs could often find off-campus housing. But with the construction of the new dorm, however, the school has decided to greatly limit the number of students who are able to room off campus. And this doesn’t just mean that a few seniors live in a dorm for another year.
This means that 21-year-old freshmen (often athletes who take extra gap years for their sport) are mixed in with 17-year-olds. It also means that Kildahl “doubles” and Kittlesby “triples” continue to be cramped and stuffy, contributing to an overall bad living environment. If St. Olaf doesn’t have enough space, even with the new dorms, why are they so keen on keeping as many students as possible on campus?
If you guessed money, you’d be right. We go to a private college, which intends to make a profit — as any business naturally would. Campus housing costs a student $2,795 each semester, and a meal plan costs $3,035. Yearly, each student pays $11,660 in room and board. In an off-campus meeting earlier this year, the St. Olaf administration expressed plans to drastically cut down the amount of students who live off campus. Based on a US News 2020 estimate, about 250 students live off campus. According to these statistics, if 100 more students are forced back into the dorms, St. Olaf stands to make over $1 million.
Yes, four years on campus is part of a contract we sign. Yes, off-campus restrictions are readily available on the website. Yes, this is a business. St. Olaf is not lying to its student body at any point in the process, but they are prioritizing squeezing every last penny out of students over their mental and physical health. Tuition is already over $60,000 a year. Giving up a few thousand more per a handful of students to give hundreds of students livable housing accommodations seems fairly reasonable to me. Though it’s easy to see why this isn’t on the administrators’ radar— they aren’t the ones sharing a single closet and stacking rickety dorm beds.
Bekki Antonelli is from Wellesley, Mass.
Her major is computer science.