Rising population and high cost of living drive students off-campus

Carriage House Townhomes and Celeron Square Apartments, photographed on Aug. 21, 2016, are some of the off-campus housing options for UConn students. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

Carriage House Townhomes and Celeron Square Apartments, photographed on Aug. 21, 2016, are some of the off-campus housing options for UConn students. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

A 45 percent increase in student enrollment at the University of Connecticut over the past 20 years has shifted the burden of student housing onto the Mansfield community, Rebecca Shafer, co-founder of the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation Group, said.

The number of undergraduate and graduate students at UConn has increased from 17,666 to 25,653, excluding the colleges of law, medicine and dentistry, since the fall of 1996, according to the MNPG’s website. Only 70 percent, or 11,295, of UConn’s 18,826 undergraduate students in Storrs live on campus, according to the 2016 UConn Fact Sheet.

The remaining 30 percent of undergraduates, and all 6,827 graduate students, have crowded into apartments and single family rentals, disrupting Mansfield and neighborhoods in the surrounding area, Shafer said.

“Students by nature are transient because they’re here for four years and then they leave, so it changes the character of the neighborhood. It’s like if you put in a hotel,” Shafer said.

The demand for student housing has caused investors to start converting homes into rentals at an alarming pace, Shafer said, destabilizing neighborhoods and pushing properties beyond the price range of families that would normally live there.  

Shafer experienced this first hand when a fraternity moved into the house next door, on what she described as a quiet country back road. She said the flow of students going to and from class, as well as Ubering to late night parties, has significantly increased traffic in the area.

“They're all commuting back and forth on a road that previously had little traffic. If you’re adding 1,000 cars a day, just the math says that’s going to have a huge impact,” Shafer said. There are between 1,700 and 1,800 rentals that are inspected in Mansfield, but the town doesn’t track the number of students, according to Department of Building and Housing Inspection director Michael Ninteau.

While UConn does not require off-campus students to report their local address, the number of commuter students has remained largely static since he took the position in 2012, John Armstrong, director of Off-Campus Student Services, said.  

“We have a pretty good idea of where students are living but it’s not an exact science,” Armstrong said.

Shafer said the MNPG wants UConn to commit to creating more housing not just for Mansfield, but for the good of its students.

“The university, in my opinion, does a huge disservice to students by forcing them off campus, because they don’t have their bonds,” Shafer said. “When you live on a dead end road down a long dirt driveway, you don’t have the opportunity to mingle and meet new people, so from a social perspective the students are much more isolated.”

Armstrong said his department works to ensure that both “true commuter” students (those who live farther from campus with their parents) and off-campus students in the surrounding area remain connected to UConn.

“It is more challenging for the commuter student to make connections at the university,” Armstrong said. “We do not want a student to drive into a parking lot, go to class and go home. We want them to get involved.”

One of the biggest reasons students cite for living off campus is maintaining relationships with their friends, Armstrong said. Luke Piazza, a ninth-semester accounting major, said that while he moved off campus to live with his friends, finances were also a major factor.

“Me and my friends wanted a little more freedom,” Piazza said. “We wanted less rules and it’s way cheaper, it was basically the money because a couple of my friends are out of state students.”

Piazza said he has been able to spend about $6,000, or $500 a month, to rent a shared apartment in Mansfield for an entire year compared to paying over $10,000 for just nine months of housing and a meal plan when he lived on campus two years ago. The estimated cost of living on campus with a meal plan during the 2016-2017 academic year is $13,478, according to the Office of Student Financial Aid Services’ website.

Marcus Garcia, a seventh-semester nursing major, said he realized before his junior year that he and his roommate had been paying UConn nearly $2,000 a month to share a double. When Garcia moved off campus, he was able to get to his own room for about $550 a month. He now lives in a single-family house in Glastonbury.

“Taking that $2,000 and living off campus in a beautiful apartment definitely seems more appealing to me, and no place costs that much,” Garcia said. “Its nicer living circumstances, more on my terms than the school’s terms.”

Instead of dealing with R.A.s and midnight fire drills like he had to in his old dorm, Garcia said he can now cook his own food, entertain friends and enjoy his personal space. There is nothing UConn could do to lure him back on campus, Garcia said.

Jillian Provost, a seventh-semester anthropology and women’s, gender and sexualities studies major, said she moved into a lake house in Coventry after a trying experience with a random roommate at her previous university.

“I didn’t really want to live with my parents and I knew the person I was going to live with so it was going to be way better. I just like having my space,” Provost said.

Provost said that living off-campus and cooking her own meals also ended up being more cost effective than paying for room and board at UConn.

“It definitely has saved me money, and even if it hasn’t I’m getting more for what I’m paying,” Provost said. “I have a living room, I have a kitchen, I have freedom to move. I don’t have to worry about lighting candles. It’s crazy to me that [UConn] charges so much, it’s just exploitative.”

Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.