Residence price tag too high for some

With residence fees rising, some first-year students seek more affordable housing options off campus

First-year students take part in the FYNIRS Orientation on Wednesday.
First-year students take part in the FYNIRS Orientation on Wednesday.

In her first year at Queen’s, Elysha Roeper found herself staring down a bill for over $10,000 — to be paid immediately. She decided the residence experience wasn’t worth the price.

When Roeper entered first-year in 2012, the cheapest residence option — living in a triple room — cost $10,749. Today, triple rooms and a mandatory meal plan cost $11,677, and the most expensive rooms in Leggett Hall and Watts Hall cost $13,226.

“For someone on OSAP, that’s a pretty big number to look at on your own,” said Roeper, ArtSci ’16. Instead, she saved $6,000 by electing to live in student co-op housing, she said.

Some incoming first-year students, like Roeper, choose to live outside of residence to avoid the financial cost, while others live off campus out of personal preference. Of the 4,418 first year students enrolled in 2014-15, 517 students aren’t in residence.

Even for Roeper, the price of residence was only one deciding factor. Before coming to Queen’s, she had an experience similar to residence during a gap year, when she traveled to Guatemala for a semester through a travel-study program.

Without that experience, Roeper said, she may have considered residence.

“You grow a lot during your first year outside of high school,” she said. “It’s a different level of maturity. I think I would have needed some extra help.”

One such avenue at Queen’s is the First Year Not in Residence Students (FYNIRS) Orientation, which runs parallel to residence orientation sessions in early September. The annual turnout for FYNIRS orientation is typically around 100 students, according to co-chair Hurray Weng.

Over the span of three days, FYNIRS leaders ­— called “landlords” — run events like a karaoke night and a boat cruise for first-years.

Weng, ArtSci ’15, said FYNIRS also runs events throughout the year to check up on students and stay in touch. The co-chair lived off campus in first-year out of personal preference, he said, and while he met new people through his classes and faculty orientation week, he felt a sense of exclusion at times.

“When I met new people in orientation week, they asked what residence I’m from,” Weng said. “As soon as I told them I don’t live in residence, it’s the reaction they gave me. It’s like, ‘oh, you don’t live in residence — how come?’”

Now, he’s pushing for orientation leaders to pay attention to students who aren’t in residence, Weng said.

“Hopefully their leaders will be able to check in on those FYNIRS a little bit more, as sometimes [the student] may not be from the city,” he said.

Students from Kingston, on the other hand, are more familiar with their environment. These students, according to Weng, typically live at home to save money.

Kingston native Philippe Côté, Sci ’15, lived at home in first year. His primary motivations were “money and convenience,” he said, since he could live for free with his parents or pay $10,000 for residence.

“Looking back on it, I’m glad with what I did. It saved a lot of money,” he said.

In his second year, Côté moved into a house with a group of students from Brockington House residence. Sharing classes with his peers in engineering initially helped him meet new people, he said.

“I’m with the same people all day, so it’s easier to meet people and make friends.”

Other students, like Santana Stallberg, ArtSci ’16, said the transition between high school and university was more challenging outside of residence.

“I had to grow up very quickly, as I was cooking for myself and taking care of a house,” Stallberg told the Journal via email, adding that it did help her learn to be independent.

Although she made friends through classes and FYNIRS orientation, she didn’t get invited to socialize in residence — especially during frosh week, because she didn’t live in the same area as her friends.

Stallberg said she compensated by inviting fellow students to her house instead.

Living in residence remains the chosen option for over 90 per cent of first-year students. Residences help smooth the transition from high school to university, said Residence Society President Nathan Utioh, by providing a close social environment and accessible supports, such as residence dons and outreach counselors.

“As you’re going through these difficult transition issues, residence staff teams are all trained really well to help find referrals and help answer [your] questions,” Utioh said.

Regardless, the cost of living in residence is a concern for the Residence Society, he added. Although he’s unaware of options that would reduce the overall price, he said the Senate Residence Committee is planning to reduce the rate at which it’s rising.

The price of living in residence is currently rising by four per cent annually. In the 2011-12 academic year, the cost of living in a standard single room was $10,986; in 2014-15 year, it’s $12,477.

Jeffrey McCarthy, Con-Ed ’13, said residences are less accessible to students with limited funds. A Kingston native, McCarthy lived at home during his first year at Queen’s for financial reasons.

“Initially, I felt disconnected from the broader Queen’s experience, especially without having the convenience of a floor with potential new friends,” he told the Journal via email.

But once McCarthy became involved in FYNIRS events throughout his first-year, he said, he found a home at Queen’s.

Both residences and student housing have positive and negative aspects, McCarthy continued, and living off campus isn’t inherently worse.

“I think that it’s important to dispel the myth of residence being the ideal experience,” he said. “That places FYNIRS as somehow the lesser option.”

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