The university administration is facing rising controversy over a tiered housing system that will increase the price of the more attractive on-campus housing units available to students. The announcement is drawing protests from students who fear that the new system will lead to economic segregation on campus.
The administration has stated that it will adjust financial aid awards in order to ensure that on-campus housing is accessible to all students. However, apprehension among the student body remains, as the student-run coalition Tufts Housing League (THL) demonstrated by a petition with over 1,500 signatures, according to the petition, protesting the implementation of the tiered system.
“We think [the tiered system] will result in economic segregation, which completely changes the culture on campus and is also fundamentally unfair and unjust,” Nathan Krinsky, an organizer for THL, said. “Your quality of living and housing shouldn’t depend on how much money you make.”
Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon explained that Dean of Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of Engineering Jianmin Qu made the decision, noting that she and other “senior leaders” had also provided input.
According to Glaser, the change in housing pricing will allow the university to better preserve its on-campus housing and other facilities.
“The tiered housing system will enable the university to expand, invest, and better maintain our residential facilities, which is a priority for us,” Glaser told the Daily in an email.
Other reasons for the change include similar practices at peer institutions. McMahon cited Boston University, Boston College, Wesleyan University and Cornell University as examples.
“I think it’s important to ground us in what other schools are doing just so we can give ourselves context for the discussion,” Chris Rossi, associate dean of student affairs, said.
The new housing system is “part of a comprehensive effort to look at how we steward our resources at the university in a way to manage sustainable growth,” McMahon said.
Under the new tiered housing rates attached to the announcement, all first-year dorms will be priced at a base rate of $8,220. Housing units with kitchens and more amenities will be priced at increasingly higher rates, the most expensive tier being $10,219.
Rossi told the Daily that doubles and triples in culture and identity-based housing will be priced at the lowest rate of $8,220. Singles in culture and identity-based housing will cost $9,171, a price increase that Rossi explained matches the university’s existing single room pricing policy.
Administrators justified this pricing change in part by saying that housing units with a kitchen may enable students to save money in other ways. Glaser and Rossi say paying more for a room with kitchen access could lower the overall cost of attendance.
“Access to enhanced kitchen facilities could allow some students to obtain more moderate meal plans or forego meal plans entirely,” Glaser said.
The administration’s announcement also explained that it will tailor financial aid awards to ensure that all students, regardless of income level, can access affordable on-campus housing.
“Financial aid awards will be adjusted to support the full demonstrated financial need of each admitted and returning student, regardless of the type of housing they select,” Qu said. “This means that all students who receive financial aid will be able to participate in the housing selection process knowing that their aid will match their need, regardless of the price of their preferred on-campus accommodation.”
According to a FAQ page on Tufts’ website, students on full financial aid will continue to have the full cost of housing paid for by the university, regardless of what tier of housing they select, provided that their financial circumstances remain the same. Patricia Reilly, director of financial aid, confirmed this in an interview.
“Because financial aid dollars are following students, our lowest income students will have the lowest barriers to selecting housing,” McMahon said. “The major thing we’re doing [to combat economic segregation] is repackaging aid to go along with housing.”
Nevertheless, members of THL remain concerned about the potential effects of the new system. Krinsky, a senior, explained that he doesn’t trust the administration’s promise to adjust financial aid to reflect housing choice.
“Right off the bat, there’s a little bit of distrust. Financial aid for many, many students is insufficient… if [the administration] wasn’t helping students in the past when it comes to tuition, there’s no reason to think that they will help students now with housing,” Krinsky said.
Furthermore, THL worries that the hike in prices for nicer housing units may make staying on campus unsustainable for many students, causing problems on the community level.
“If on-campus housing isn’t accessible to low income students, they will be forced off campus into units where Somerville and Medford residents are living. It drives up rents and exacerbates gentrification,” Krinsky said.
McMahon, however, stated that the administration “hopes [the tiered system] incentivizes people to move on-campus.”
McMahon explained that students would be incentivized to remain on campus because, although off-campus houses have the same amenities as higher tier on-campus housing, only Tufts housing will ensure that housing is covered by financial aid. She said that this is a key part of the change.
“We want to make sure that students who want to access on-campus housing are able to do so,” McMahon said.
The university administration and THL have coordinated with one another and will meet to discuss the tiered system, according to Glaser and McMahon. McMahon said that she and other budgetary representatives including Qu, Rossi and Glaser will be present at the meeting.
Krinsky confirmed that a meeting is set to take place in September.