Dear World: College Housing Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

This article was written two years ago, so the dollar amounts may have gone up, but the overall intent of the article is to show you a way to save money while getting a quality education at Purdue–this information still holds true.

After reading yet another article about the prohibitive costs of a 4-year (or 5-year) education, I feel compelled to write this response.  One of the biggest expenses of a college education is the cost or room and board.  Thousands of dollars a year are consumed with very little to show for it.  While living at home is certainly an option for some students, I’d like to offer another option for those students who attend Purdue University and a select few other universities (and most especially for those who don’t want to live at home).

Student housing cooperatives, unlike housing co-ops in big cities, are a concept that originated in the 1930’s when a very charismatic man by the name of Kagawa barnstormed across the United States “preaching” the doctrine of student cooperative living. Basically, in that era of economic deprivation, it was a concept of self-help and hands-on learning.  Sound familiar?

What evolved more than 75 years later is a limited number of student-managed housing units that offer significantly reduced room and board costs in return for students managing all the day-to-day aspects of running a house–cooking, cleaning, and even basic maintenance.   How much, you ask?

During the 2012 Purdue school year, the very cheapest cost for room with a roommate and 15 meals a week is $7, 488 (eight-month contract).  That rate is only available in a male dorm. Because Purdue has very limited co-ed living options and all are more expensive, the cheapest “female’ comparable room and board option in a dorm is $8,202.  Being a girl in Purdue dorms will cost you at least $714 extra.

Enter stage left, the Purdue Student Housing Cooperatives, which started during that aforementioned barnstorming tour and are still going strong these many years later.  The Student cooperative unit that I am most familiar with, the women-only Twin Pines, is not the highest priced, but it is certainly at the top end, charging $3160 per year for room and 15+ meals a week (eight-month contract). The least expensive co-ops are charging less than $3000 per year.

Currently Purdue is charging $9,478 for two semesters of tuition.  So the cheapest dorm room and board+ tuition (assuming no increases) for four years is an astounding $67,864!  Four years of living in an above-average co-op reduces that burden to $50,552, a $17,864 savings!  It’s like getting a scholarship–without having to earn an A+ average.

But wait, there’s more!  What if I told you I could take an average teenager and turn them into a responsible adult who knows how to do basic home maintenance, cook, clean and pay bills? All for the very low cost of a couple of hours a week.  The trade-off in cost is off-set by the students who live in cooperatives, well, cooperating to manage the house.  They do all the same types of basic chores that you do in your own home, but they have a lot more people to share the burden, so it works out to 3-5 hours a week in most cases.

From my perspective, I was doing less chores living in Twin Pines than I did living with my parents.  On the other hand, I learned a great deal about planning menu, cooking and shopping for food for 28 women. I also learned how to fish rings out of plumbing, manage a largish budget and plan special events.  All of these are skills that I, sadly, use more than my hard-earned Purdue degree. I won’t even bore you with the life-long friends spiel, because you’ll get those one way or another at college, no matter where you live.

If you have a student who is attending or planning to Purdue or one of the other Universities that offers student cooperative housing, I strongly urge you to encourage them to attend the recruitment sessions (click here for more info), it could take a HUGE burden off of your pocketbook and their student loan balance.

And for those of you who are smirking and saying, “Oh yeah, what about apartments?” In Lafayette (not West Lafayette where campus is located), the cheapest student apartment I found was $425 per month, for a 12-month contract, no food, no electric, no cable or internet. That’s $5100 a year for a room without board! Even if you manage to get an eight-month contract (pretty much unheard of) you’ll be paying $3,400 a year, not a bargain by any stretch.

I realize that group living isn’t for everyone, but the price of admission to college doesn’t have to be decades of soul-sucking servitude to your student loans, there are ways to attend college without breaking the ban. So go forth and save!

If you have a student attending another university, click here to search for student housing co-ops in other locales.

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3 Comments

Filed under Life Hacks

3 responses to “Dear World: College Housing Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

  1. Leah Guinn

    Great article! Wish BSU had had something like this. Sent a link to a friend whose son is heading to Purdue this fall!

  2. Debby

    I lived at Shoemaker Cooperative for three years while attending Purdue (after my freshman year in a dorm). Now 30 years later, I have attended a Shoemaker reunion for the past six years where we’ve had as many as 33 “sisters” come back. These are friendships that I will cherish forever. No matter what I wanted to do there was always someone who would join me. Plus I definitely learned how to cook, clean, make important decisions and manage my time. I am so glad I learned about coops while I was at Purdue.

  3. Tanya

    The Cooperatives at Purdue are a fabulous place to live! My parents lived in Twin Pines and Dover (no longer exists) and I subsequently lived in Glenwood. It is absolutely the best bargain for your buck and do truly do learn more about responsibility. On top of that, you are either on campus or just on the fringes of it – thus no need to drive to class! I found cooperatives particularly helpful in quickly establishing friends when as a freshman on the big campus and I still keep in contact with these friends. Highly recommend checking them out!!

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