Are Pricey Dorms 10 Times Better?

Housing options offer the easiest way to cut college costs.

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Students willing to do about five hours a week of chores can slash their costs especially dramatically. Many co-op housing units around UCLA charge about $5,000 an academic year for a standard double room and 19 meals a week—an astonishing bargain in such a high-cost area.

Dorm shoppers should be careful, however: Cheaper dorms don't always turn into student savings. Columbia University in New York charges about $6,000 for its standard dorms, half the cost of dorms at some other Manhattan colleges. Tufts University in Medford, Mass., a suburb of Boston, charges about $5,600 for its dorms, also about half of some of its nearby competitors. But both charge much more in tuition than many of their competitors. Columbia, NYU, and Tufts, all ranked in the top 50 national universities by U.S. News, have sticker prices for tuition, fees, and room and board in excess of $51,000. Suffolk, which has very expensive dorms, is not as highly ranked as many other Boston-area schools, and it charges significantly lower tuition. Its sticker price is less than $42,000 a year.

Many colleges say their dorms are expensive because they offer many free amenities such as Wi-Fi, cable, and fitness clubs. Loyola Marymount University in Southern California notes that its $9,200 dorm rooms have ocean views, faculty who create "living learning communities," ministers who live in student quarters, round-the-clock security, and "really nice furnishings. We have the best housing in Southern California," says Richard Rocheleau, director of student housing.

In addition, many universities require their housing departments to charge enough to produce a profit that can be used to support other university expenses. Clemson University in South Carolina, where dorm prices are comparatively low, ranging from $3,460 a year to $5,900, still manages to funnel about 6 percent of student dorm fees to support other university activities, says Doug Hallenbeck, executive director of housing. Housing departments at many other colleges are expected to generate much higher profits for their school's use.

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