Editorial: Tiered housing threatens values of financial accessibility, inclusivity

This past fall, Tufts implemented a tiered housing system for sophomores, juniors and seniors, transitioning from a flat housing rate to a range of rates that vary by type of living arrangement. According to a Tufts page announcing the new system, these changes were instituted in order to enable the university “to sustain expansion, investment, and maintenance of the University’s residential facilities.” Prior to the implementation of this system, numerous on-campus groups expressed their concern and opposition to tiered housing; the Tufts Housing League wrote a coalition statement emphasizing that tiered housing would exacerbate inequity and economic segregation, and a September 2018 editorial in the Daily highlighted concerns about financial inaccessibility. With the implementation of tiered housing this semester, its negative impacts on our community have become more apparent. Though the administration may intend to use this system to improve housing in the long term, its immediate, adverse effects on current students run counter to this goal; tiered housing imposes a great financial burden and has infused the housing process with social tensions and exclusivity. Tufts should return to a flat housing rate in order to restore values of financial accessibility and inclusivity to the housing system.

Although Tufts claims to champion accessibility and equal opportunity, the tiered housing system counteracts this goal, as it poses great challenges for Tufts’ student population that has financial need but does not receive aid from the university. While Tufts does provide financial aid based on necessity, factors used to calculate aid needed, such as family income, home value estimates and retirement information, often do not directly translate into what a family can afford to pay for college and housing costs. It does not factor in the countless nuances of a family’s experience, like a relative relying on the family’s financial support, travel costs and income spent on other necessary household resources or student opportunities such as summer programs and internships. The factors that Tufts uses to calculate aid threaten the system’s accuracy as well: They use home equity, or the market value of a family’s home, in calculations, leading to an aid deficit for students with high home values but family incomes that warrant financial aid. Additionally, a Tufts website states that only a “fairly small and highly qualified group of international students will be offered financial aid,” indicating that the university does not provide aid for all international students in need. Further, since Tufts students often do not receive aid despite financial necessity, they must pay the added costs of living in Latin Way, Sophia Gordon Hall or other more expensive housing options, which could pose financial risk. Tufts families may also have just enough assets to pay full tuition, so additional housing fees could still threaten their financial comfort. Unlike other students on campus, this group cannot pick and choose which dorm they will live in, given the up to almost $2000 variation in on-campus housing prices. Since financial accessibility is already a nuanced issue, instating tiered housing complicates matters, increasing the amount students must pay to live in higher-quality dorms and leading to divisions within the student body. 

This financial inaccessibility threatens an invaluable part of the college experience: the ability to find a solid community and fully experience the social side of college. In an effort to reduce discord caused by choosing housing, Tufts announced modifications to the lottery system in November 2018, revealing that lottery numbers of students in a housing group would no longer be averaged to determine their selection time; instead, the highest lottery number in the group would determine selection time in order to prevent the alienation of students with lower-ranking numbers and alleviate the associated stress of this process. In many ways, tiered housing undoes much of this progress, for it creates instead means-based social isolation.

Similar to how students with lower-ranking lottery numbers were cast out of their desired housing groups, factors beyond their control within the tiered housing system inhibit students’ ability to live with friends. If an individual’s housing group plans to live in a more expensive option such as Latin Way or Hillside Apartments, limited financial means could prevent them from living alongside friends, an important part of the college experience. Thus, a clear problem arises: As many Tufts students do have this opportunity, the issue of tiered housing instantly becomes one of inclusivity, community and fairness. 

This problem also applies to Greek and themed housing options, for they are priced higher within the tiered housing system. The 2020-2021 sustainability-oriented “Green House” is located in Tufts’ new Community Housing (CoHo), which means a single room costs over $1000 more than a traditional sophomore, junior and senior single and nearly $2000 more than a traditional double. Additionally, doubles in sorority, fraternity, Crafts or certain cultural houses such as Russian House cost $600 more than doubles in dorms such as Lewis Hall. For students with financial need, the additional costs of living in these specialized houses create a clear dilemma that they should not have to face: place a greater financial burden on their families or lose a unique, valuable opportunity.

Tufts must return to a flat housing rate in order to address these issues and eliminate the financial and social exclusivity that has emerged with the tiered housing system. This action is vital in order to restore values of equal opportunity and allow students to focus on what truly matters in their college experiences: community, academic success and full engagement with all of college’s opportunities. Housing should be a vehicle that allows for this involvement, not the block in the road that inhibits it.