Boston is bracing for the annual influx of college students returning for the fall semester, but when the moving vans roll into town many of them will pull up outside apartment buildings rather than dorms. Mayor Marty Walsh says he'd like to see Boston’s entire student population living on campus, and while that could be a reality for at least one area college other schools have a long way to go.
On a recent weekday, a Boston College tour guide showed prospective students around that school’s lush, leafy campus. As the pitch unfolds, BC’s residential experience is a major selling point— something the college's spokesman Jack Dunn stresses as he shows me around campus.
Dunn says that as a group, BC students want to live on campus, not off.
"Why? Part of the reason is the exorbitant rents that are charged by absentee landlords who are also unresponsive to their needs. Students often face break-in issues when they go home at winter and spring break,” Dunn says.
Recent grad Zachary Wilson says there are more positive reasons.
"I guess the sense of community I felt—I wanted to keep living with this same group of people. And Boston College had given me four years of housing. The accommodations only got better through the years."
Wilson is a Los Angeles native who lived on campus all four years and is working on campus this summer. So is his friend Emyr Remy, who grew up in Canton and has a similar take.
"The community of being in college is what you’re really here for, in addition to classes,” Remy says. "And when you’re off campus by yourself you don’t get that experience."
Right now, 85 percent of BC undergrads live on campus, even though they’re not required to. The school wants that figure to reach 100 percent. And it’s building accordingly—including a large dormitory now under construction near the school’s Commonwealth Avenue entrance.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says BC has the right idea.
"I would love to see 100 percent of students living on campus across the city of Boston. I think the more students we can put on campus, the more housing stock it frees up in neighborhoods,” the said.
But making Walsh’s vision a reality won’t be easy. At Suffolk University, just 23 percent of full-time undergrads live on campus, according to reports filed with the city. At Northeastern, that figure is 52 percent. Those schools are in the middle of Boston without much room for new construction. And even if they found a way to build more housing, their students might not be interested.
Jen Zemke is a junior at Emerson College, which requires students to spend their first two years living on campus. She says that’s meant paying too much for too little.
"Things are crumbling. The furniture’s not that nice. The beds are super uncomfortable,” she says. "Emerson housing is upwards of $14,000 a semester, which is about $2,000 a month. And I could be living in much nicer places for $2,000 a month."
Zemke is about to move to Dorchester. She’ll save about $1,600 a month—and says she won’t miss communal living at all.
"It’s only like a 20 minute T ride away from campus, so even for early classes it shouldn’t be that bad,” she says.
It’s hard to imagine a Boston College student thinking that way. But then a rich on campus life is a big reason students go to BC in the first place. At other schools, it may be a while before that’s case.
Former Boston City Councillor Mike Ross joined Greater Boston to discuss what colleges need to do to house more of their students on campus – and it’s not just building more dorms.