Pressing Undergraduate Housing Crisis at Stony Brook University
It is no secret that dorming at Stony Brook is expensive. Undergraduate students in particular are often forced to dorm due to their distance from school, expensive off-campus housing, and the inconvenient and expensive commute. As such, the school has an effective monopoly on undergraduate room and board, and students are forced to pay the high costs of dorming.
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the median monthly rent for a six-bedroom apartment in Suffolk County is $756 per person. However, a student living in a single room with 5 other people in West Apartments pays $1415. Although these lodgings are the most expensive undergraduate housing on campus, every apartment has a kitchen so students often choose to live here to not have to buy food at the dining halls.
The meal plans at our university are very expensive. First-year students, for example, must pay over $6000 a year for their mandated meal plan. Students without unlimited meal plans must pay $8.75 for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $16 for dinner at the dining halls or an average of $11.06 per meal at retail locations according to the Stony Brook meal plan website. Students who use dining dollars get only a small discount of 10% off at dine-in locations. Just as SBU is able to take advantage of student reliance on dorms to charge exorbitant prices, the dining halls also have a captivated market. This allows the many businesses that sell meals on campus to charge these high prices for low-quality food.
In addition to the high food prices, undergraduates who don’t live in apartments must still contend with high housing prices. Some students, mostly freshmen, are even forced into rooms in H, Mendelsohn, and Roosevelt with two additional people in them. While many of the rooms are only meant for two people, they still hold three residents. Students who live in three-person rooms that were originally designed for two people must pay the normal $1139 per month These prices are very high as the median cost for a one-bedroom apartment is $1030 for two people and $686 for three people according to the HUD. Of course, in most one-bedroom apartments, residents don’t share bathrooms and have their own kitchen. However, undergraduates who live in these dorms do not have such amenities and must share bathrooms and cooking areas with large sections of their floor and thus pay a lot more for much less.
In H and Mendelsohn in particular, Stony Brook University has removed some of the end hall lounges, which are vital spaces for students to study, have some privacy, and socialize, and replaced them with more dorm rooms. These removals were opposed by a student petition that garnered over 150 signatures, yet the university ignored the backlash and removed the lounges all the same. These removals have not served to lower the cost of dorming, even though students are getting fewer amenities. Instead, these removals have increased the money that Stony Brook University makes while increasing the burden on students who are already struggling with the cost of their education.
In sum, Stony Brook University holds a captive market over undergraduate housing and charges far above the market rate, especially considering the reduced amenities and crowded living conditions. Similarly, the dining halls charge high prices for their relatively low-quality food, taking advantage of the limited outside options for undergraduates. With these immensely high prices for the basic necessities of housing and food that students need to continue their education, it is no wonder that Americans collectively hold $1.75 trillion dollars in student loan debt. As a public University, Stony Brook should set the example for providing better value for students rather than taking advantage of their limited access to housing and meal options.
50th percentile rent estimates: HUD USER. 50th Percentile Rent Estimates | HUD USER. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/50per.html#2022