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UC Berkeley campus housing prices rank among highest in nation

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MARCH 13, 2015

A recent report ranks UC Berkeley’s campus-run student housing among the highest in the nation.

According to U.S. News & World Report, UC Berkeley — the only public university included in the top list — offers the fifth-most expensive room and board in the nation. The price for UC Berkeley’s listed room and board beats out that of private schools such as the University of Chicago and University of Southern California, as well as other West Coast state universities such as the University of Oregon, the University of Washington and Arizona State University.

Room and board, as defined by the report, combines the cost of lodging and meals for one academic year.

In addition to dining services, staffing and maintenance, the budget for UC Berkeley’s Residential and Student Service Programs, or RSSP, includes “debt service,” which includes the costs of housing projects.

A similar report from Business Insider for the 2013-14 school year also listed UC Berkeley as the nation’s third-most expensive; in fact, UC Berkeley was the only college to appear on both top-10 lists.

At UC Berkeley, the cost of university housing rivals tuition for in-state students. A triple-occupancy room costs $12,726 per student for the current academic year, while tuition for in-state students costs $12,972.

The cost of living in the UC Berkeley residence halls is high in part because of their location in the expensive Bay Area real estate market, according to Adam Ratliff, spokesperson for the campus’s Division of Student Affairs.

“Berkeley’s student housing operations are auxiliary and self-supporting,” Ratliff said in an email, adding that they do not use state, campus or student fee money for housing and dining.

Most of debt service pays for construction work for renovation and new RSSP projects, according to Ratliff. During the 2013-14 academic year, debt service accounted for about $29 million — or 20 percent —of the overall RSSP budget. In comparison, dining services amounted to 21 percent. The debt service does not cover construction costs from the past two years. Instead, the university issues bonds to cover the costs.

Christopher Palmer, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, also said UC Berkeley’s land is extremely valuable because of the highly competitive Bay Area market. Because of the high value of the campus’s land holding, Palmer said, lowering the price of the housing would be inefficient, “low-value usage.”

As a public university, however, UC Berkeley is exempt from paying property taxes.

Recently, a state legislative committee approved an audit to examine losses in tax revenue for local governments, because CSU and UC campuses do not pay property taxes. When a campus expands, obtaining previously private land, local governments could lose money from property taxes that fund emergency fire services.

The campus, however, may find it more pragmatic to maintain a higher price, according to Palmer.

Palmer said that with low prices, too many students would take advantage of campus housing. Such high demand would necessitate a lottery system, according to Palmer, potentially turning away students. Housing is currently only guaranteed for one year, as compared with UC Davis or UCLA, which guarantee two and three years, respectively.

“There’s a balance that lots of universities are trying to play so they’re helping students and making sure they’re not providing too much of a subsidy,” Palmer said.

Room pricing at UC Berkeley also differs from some other universities in that singles, doubles and triples have one price per category, regardless of location. For example, a student in a 181-square-foot double in Unit 3, which was built in 1964 and renovated in 2000, pays the same as a student in a recently renovated, 270-square-foot double in historic Clark Kerr Campus. This is compared with some schools such as ASU and University of Washington, which shift pricing by category depending on location.

Palmer rejects the idea that UC Berkeley’s rising student costs would negatively affect its enrollment numbers but said it could affect the type of people who are able to attend UC Berkeley.

Students who come from lower-income families may be turned away by high costs, but there would be other students who would be eager to take their place,  Palmer said.

In 2013-14, the student body was composed of 34 percent low-income Pell grant recipients, according to Ratliff.

“Many low-income students receive enough grant funds from state, federal and UC Berkeley sources to completely cover their tuition and fees, as well as the majority of their living expenses,” he said in an email. “Housing and living expenses are a very real concern for students and families planning how to finance a student’s education.”

Contact Anna Sturla at [email protected].

MARCH 13, 2015