Dean Huang's Housing Costs Proposal

Tonight at the ASCMC Senate meeting, Dean of Students Jefferson Huang discussed some ideas for changes in housing costs.  Specifically, he proposed changing the price of housing to one flat rate-- the same price for doubles and singles. Dean Huang, also a professor of philosophy, offered a few justifications for this plan:

  • Often, students on financial aid cannot afford to live in singles because financial aid only covers the price of a double, which is about $900(?) less per year than the price of a single.  At CMC, our administration tries to do everything possible to make the wealth of one's parents irrelevant in a campus setting to create an "even playing field" and equal and comfortable living situation for all students.  By charging a higher rate for singles, it forces some students to live in a double against their wishes, which has negative consequences for many people.
  • Already, students in non-air conditioned rooms like those in North Quad and some Mid Quad dorms are paying more for what they get than are students in other places on campus.  For example, the costs associated with a double in Stark Hall (elevator maintenance and electricity, air conditioning, etc.)  outweigh the costs associated with a double in Phillips Hall (no A/C, no elevator), but students in either room pay the same housing price.  This isn't really a justification as much as it is a point, but you can draw your own conclusions.
  • The new price would be somewhere in between the current price for a double and the price for a single.  Basically, the price of a double would go up; the price of a single would go down.  [By some definition, students in doubles would effectively be "subsidizing" fees of students in singles.]

His proposal was followed by discussion from student senators.  They raised the following points (I did not get the names of the people who said the following).

  • Someone asked if financial aid could just cover the price of singles for those who want it [author's note: this is known as a "free lunch" in economics speak].  I think the answer was "no," or "I'll look into that," but I'm not sure.  Leave it in the comments if you were there.
  • Someone made a generalization that people who are not on financial aid are very wealthy and could thus easily afford to pay more in fees, but that people on financial aid would have trouble doing so.  [Author's note: I think this is a bad assumption.  There are plenty of people who are not on financial aid, but still struggle to pay tuition because of the way "need" is determined.  Also, I don't think it is right, nor is it the administration's place to transfer the wealth of students who are not on financial aid to students who are on financial aid.  Currently, financial aid comes from outside sources-- government grants, alumni and parent donations, etc., but not from compulsory payment by other students' parents.]
  • Some senators asked for more figures and projections from CMC's Treasurer (Robin Aspinall).  Dean Huang said he would try to get them.
  • Someone raised the issue of supply and demand, shortages, etc.
  • Dean Huang asked for a poll.  About 60% of students were against the one price proposal, while ~40% were for it.  [Author's note: The following is a generalization and assumption, but I think it would make sense that many of the people who were for the proposal prefer singles; many of the people against it prefer doubles.  Simply put, nobody in a double wants to pay more for their room, but people who prefer singles would be happy to pay less for them.  People often vote self-interest]

Overall, I am against the proposal.  I would even venture to say that living in a non-air conditioned room should be cheaper than living in an air-conditioned room, as students who live in A/C rooms cost the school significantly more money, but I realize that isn't a very realistic or popular suggestion, and that it does not take supply and demand into account.  My issue here is more that it's asking students who are in doubles to subsidize the cost of housing for students who are in singles.  A better proposal would be to gauge supply and demand for singles and doubles and price them at those points.  Talk to a microeconomics professor about how to do that.

Analogous: If we're going to charge only Boswell residents for Boswell dorm damages at a TNC attended by students across campus, I think the same standard should apply for other dorms-- only costs incurred by those dorms should be paid for by those dorms.  There's also an environmental issue with not charging anyone for electricity and other utilities (Tragedy of the Commons), but that's another issue.

Anyway, I can see there are some arguments for both sides of the issue, but that's where I stand.  Ultimately, the proposal will have to be approved by other parties before it is approved or rejected.  Dean Huang (jefferson.huang@cmc.edu) encourages students to write him with their thoughts.

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