UMBC’s four-year graduation rate sits at 34 percent, where the national rate sits at 59 percent. Possibly because of our heavy focus on the sciences and research, the majority of students at UMBC graduate at “irregular times.”
This is not abnormal. Nationally, stays at public universities have been lengthening. For some reason, though, this hasn’t translated to changes in how those later students are treated financially.
Universities across the country expect juniors and seniors to pay more — in a sense, UMBC’s first to fourth-year undergraduates are lucky to have escaped that trend, as they have the option to live in cheaper residential halls. Colgate University forces upperclassmen into more expensive apartments and Emerson doesn’t guarantee housing to those generally older students. Still, UMBC’s fifth-year students face more difficulties financially than others.
Costs like the student activities fee, athletics fee and the transportation fee remain constant no matter what year a student is in. Yet, one of the key costs of the college experience is housing. For fifth-year students at UMBC, there are two options: the rock, expensive housing in Walker; and the hard place, living entirely off-campus.
Fifth-year students are forced to choose one of these options, either watching their costs rise or increasing their difficulty in reaching their classes and in living the full student experience. For those who wish to remain on campus or have no other option, there’s no question: for some students, costs only rise as time goes on.
Housing costs in residence halls start at $2,313 per semester for undergraduates and go as high as $3,283 for the very-commonly-chosen double room. Costs vary according to the level of privacy and space provided for the tenant, onto which is added a $350 “communication fee.” Walker Avenue Apartments start at $4,020 — a far cry from the lower rates that freshmen so often pay. The most common option, an academic 4 bedroom apartment, costs $4,328. To recap, the most commonly-chosen freshman option adds up to $3633, and the most commonly-chosen option available to 5th-year students is $4,328.
Admittedly, there is one higher cost for those in residential halls: meal plans are required. Still, it is doubtful that added cost of meal plans could close the gap between those that choose residence halls, and those that choose Walker, as those in Walker still pay for food.
Housing on this campus is limited, no doubt about it — to argue that fifth-year students are less willing to take on-campus housing is no question. To argue, however, that there are those that do not need cheaper housing on-campus is absurd – especially considering how prevalent fifth-year students are on this campus – and as such, the inability to choose strikes as unfair at best.
With undergraduate studies ever-lengthening, it no longer makes sense to charge those in their later years more for the same privileges that every other student has, especially when those students are often in harder classes and are faced with the impending costs of the real world.
Universities no doubt appreciate the income gained from these students and there is no hesitation in saying that freshmen would gawk at higher housing rates and should be prioritized for cheaper housing. As a public university, however, UMBC is faced with only one choice: accept the realities of modern student life and stop pushing those who are already putting themselves further into debt to extend their education even deeper into that hole.
Editor’s note: This article has been amended; it included several incorrect figures that portrayed the difference in cost between residence halls and Walker as larger than it was by a significant margin.