SMU financial information reveals cost of living on campus is higher than off campus

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Living on campus
as a freshman creates memories that can shape a student’s experience at SMU. Typically,
the majority of the student body moves out of the residence halls after
completing their freshman year. Only 2,000 out of the 12,000 undergraduates and
graduate students currently live in one of the 14 residence halls. Over half of
those 2,000 are first year students. The class of 2017 will be the first to
live in the newly built residential commons as sophomores. In addition to the
repeat year of dorm life, students may also be facing a more expensive cost of
living.

According to the 2013 to 2014 Financial Information Bulletin provided by the Bursar’s office, the estimated cost of room and board for students living on campus for an academic year is $13,956. The estimated cost of room and board for living off campus is $7,500, which means that the university predicts the cost of living on campus is $6,456 more than what students pay for outside housing. This figure is important considering that as of next year, students will be required to live on campus for the first two years of being an undergraduate.

According to Marcia Miller, associate director of financial aid, the estimated cost of living off campus is determined by conducting “a yearly survey of the cost of two bedroom apartments.” From there, the office “come ups with a median cost for each student living in a two bedroom apartment. “We get average utility costs, cable and Internet from providers,” Miller said.

The on campus estimate, Miller said, “covers the cost of a basic All Access 7 meal plan with $100 flex dollars and the weighted average of the double room costs.” The meal plan alone costs $2,500 per semester for unlimited meals at campus dining locations. Purchasing a meal plan is mandatory for students living in residence halls.

“I’ve lived on campus all four years and I’m really surprised to hear that its more expensive than living off,” senior accounting major Michelle Navarre said. Navarre lived in the Panhellenic house her sophomore year and in her sorority house as a junior and senior. Only students who live in residence halls must purchase the university meal plan, so the additional cost does not apply to students living in Greek housing.

Currently, there are three meal plans options for undergraduates living in residence halls. Freshmen must purchase the All Access 7 plan, which is the most expensive at $2,500 per semester. Sophomore, junior, and senior residents must pick a plan ranging from $2,500, $2,290, to $2,490 per semester. While information about the rates that students will pay to live in the Residential Commons is not yet available, the mandatory meal plan will keep the cost of living on campus as a sophomore higher than living off campus.

The fact that the cost of food is not included in the estimate for off campus housing means that the expense will be determined by the lifestyle of the student. Cooking at home is often cheaper if students spend their money wisely at the grocery store, especially since some students do not utilize the meal plan that they are paying for.

“I spent significantly less on food while living in my apartment compared to what I was paying for a meal plan,” Molly Williams, senior finance major, said. Williams lived off campus in an apartment during her sophomore and junior year before moving into her sorority house as a senior.

Still, there are also ways students pay more when living off campus. Most off campus housing requires a year-long lease, meaning students have to pay rent for the summer months when they are not in Dallas. Additionally, furnishing an apartment is often costly. Students also have a greater need to own a car for trips to the grocery store or to drive to class.

“I would sublease my room when I wasn’t in town, but bringing my car to school and buying furniture for my apartment really added up,” Williams said.

Another way commuting students stand to pay more is by receiving less financial aid. The financial aid office website states that students who live off campus are eligible for less money from financial aid than students who are on campus residents because of the lower cost of living. While students may be paying more to live on campus, they may also be receiving more aid, which in the end can potentially cut more costs than just living off campus would.

Setting aside the issue of expenses, there are certain benefits to living on campus for two years, including an increased sense of community. First-year student Callum Morrison currently lives in the McElvaney dorm and says he is looking forward to moving into the Residential Commons next year. “Personally, I really enjoy dorm life, part of that communal sense of responsibility to each other and consequentially, to ourselves,” he said. “I think having half the undergraduate population on campus will end up creating a better environment for both the student body and the school.”

SMU is moving towards creating a more unified campus, and while it may be at a higher cost, more students will be able to take advantage of the convenience of on campus housing, the potential benefits of additional financial assistance, and the university’s goal of a renewed focus on campus community.

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