Room and Board Costs Outpace Inflation

4 min read Many college freshmen are highly encouraged – if not required — to live on campus when beginning their higher education. That makes them captive housing consumers. And an analysis of housing costs shows they are rising faster than the rate of inflation…


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Monica Levitan and Hailey Wilt | and

Many college freshmen are highly encouraged – if not required — to live on campus when beginning their higher education. That makes them captive housing consumers. And an analysis of housing costs shows they are rising faster than the rate of inflation.

The cost of room and board at both schools has increased faster than the average annual rate of inflation, according to a review of information from the schools’ common data sets. In the graph below, inflation from 2011 to 2016 averaged around 1.36 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate of increase from 2012 to 2016 averaged 2.99 percent at Radford University, which means that the cost of room and board grew faster than the rate of inflation.

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(A graph comparing the percent increase in the cost of on-campus housing at Radford University and Roanoke College and the inflation rate within that area from 2012-2017.)

Schools’ residency requirements vary. Radford students who enrolled in fall 2017 are required to live on campus their first two years, unless they get an exemption, according to James Penven, director of Housing and Residential Life. Students may be granted exemptions for some reasons, including if they are married, living at home, or have a disability the university cannot accommodate.

Roanoke College policy requires students to live in residence halls throughout their four years as a student unless they meet similar criteria.

Hannah McDaniel, a Roanoke College senior, lived in Tabor Hall during her freshman and sophomore years and was able to live off campus starting her junior year. Why? “I liked the atmosphere of Tabor. The rooms and bathrooms were nice; it made me feel more like I was at home.”

Most students understand that the room and board fees in their tuition include housing and meals, but some don’t know what they’re paying for. Penven defined room and board fees to include the residence hall room or apartment itself, all utilities (internet, water/sewer/trash, electric, cable), maintenance, and staffing support. Depending on the unit, the figure could also include furniture.

Clarence McDaniel, Hannah’s father, said he and his wife “paid for [Hannah’s tuition] with the help of loans and grants, but it was a lot.”

Traci Lefever, a mother of Radford University sophomore Nicole Moore, said she and Nicole’s father “are paying for her to live on campus. If she lives off campus, she will be responsible for her bills.”

According to Penven, the most popular requests for housing at Radford University are on-campus residence hall apartments (super suites and deluxe super suites), Moffett Quad’s newly renovated buildings (Pocahontas, Bolling, Draper, and Moffett), and university-operated apartments, such as Greenhill, Calhoun Street and Davis Street Apartments.

McDaniel said the most popular requests for housing at Roanoke College include halls that allow students to live in alone instead of sharing a room with a roommate, such as New Hall, Tabor Hall, and Car Hall.

According to Penven, 3,116 students lived in residence halls at Radford during 2012-2013 and 2,768 students in 2017. That represents about 36 percent of the student body in fall 2012 and 29 percent in 2017. According to the Roanoke College Residential Life Office, 1,932 students lived on campus at Roanoke in 2012, while 1,537 students do in 2017. That represents about 42 percent of the student body in fall 2012 and 75 percent in 2017 there.

Residential Advisors and On-Campus Housing and Dining Fees

There are other ways for students to cover the growing cost of room and board. Beyond grants, scholarships, or having a job during the school year, they could become a residential advisor.

RAs are one of the more popular choices because students get paid through stipends that cover room and board fees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2016 3,150 Virginians were working as a residential advisor, making a mean hourly wage of $14.43.There are 100 residential advisors at Radford and are compensated in their room and board fees for that school year.

“I wanted to help people in their transition to/through college. I saw it as a great chance to enhance my leadership skills, and of course for the room and board,” said Radford University senior DuVaughn Walker.

Walker has been an RA for the past three years, working in Muse Hall his sophomore and junior years. Now he is a residential advisor for one of the campus-owned Greenhill Apartment buildings, overseeing 58 residents.

Students working as a residential advisor don’t get to choose what hall they live in; they get placed into a dormitory-based on their skill sets.

Walker doesn’t see the price of university housing as a problem because Radford has been investing money in improving and renovating the residence halls, but he thinks the meal plan options are too expensive.

Some underclassmen may consider living on campus if they get to live in the nicer suite-style dormitories. However, a lot of students tend to move off campus after a year or two of having lived in residence halls for various reasons, such as the relaxed rules.

Radford University freshman Faith Hallums, who lives in Madison Hall, wants to live off campus next school year. “I don’t have any personal space. I don’t like being that close to someone all the time.”


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