Expensive suites replace inexpensive dorms
By Clint Williamson
INDIANA -- Indiana University of Pennsylvania prides itself as a great value. On the "About IUP" section of the school's Web site, the phrases "academic excellence with affordable prices" and "high academic standards with competitive costs" appear.
But the demolition of several dormitories and their replacement with apartment-style suites may put the school's affordability into question.
Traditional residence halls usually have two students sharing one room and entire floors sharing bathrooms. The new living quarters offer a common-living area, separate bedrooms and bathrooms, and a kitchen area.
During the 2007-2008 academic year, students paid $1,670 per semester to live in the five remaining traditional residence halls. The new suites cost about twice as much. For comparable accommodations, the new suites range from $3,010 to $3,925 per semester, an increase of at least 80 percent and as much as 135 percent. Add that to the $2,519 tuition per semester, and suddenly IUP loses a measure of affordability.
The cost of housing at competing schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is around $2,000 per semester or less: East Stroudsburg University: $1,894; Shippensburg University: $1,710; Kutztown University: $2,072. None of those schools offer suite-style living like IUP. The only school in the region that does offers that housing option is Penn State Altoona, at a cost of $2,245 per semester.
With the new suites replacing most of the old residence halls, IUP has gone from one of the least expensive campuses in the state system to one of the most expensive. President Tony Atwater has said the new suites are needed to recruit new students among a college-age population that is dwindling in western Pennsylvania. Atwater has described this recruiting effort as the largest student-housing-replacement project in the country.
But the resulting increase in the cost of campus housing is a concern among some students who chose IUP because of its advertised affordability. Shannon Harkins, a sophomore majoring in political science, is one of them.
"My parents sent me and my sister here because it was so cheap," Harkins said in an interview at her house on Church Street, April 15. "But now it's getting so expensive. But what can I do, I'm already here? There are cheaper schools closer to my house. But it would be too much of a hassle to transfer."
Harkins' off-campus rent went up to $2,100 during the spring 2008 semester from $2,000, an increase of 5 percent. Her rent does not include the cost of utilities.
IUP brags about being listed on such publications as Barron's Best Buys in College Education and Arco's Dollarwise Guide to American Colleges. But these publications consider only tuition costs, not housing costs. IUP's low tuition is on the rise too. It now costs IUP students $2,519 each semester, up from $2,189 in 2003, an increase of 15 percent.
IUP officials have said they expect to replace all of the old residence halls with the new suites by 2010 at a cost of $270 million.
Clinton S. Williamson, a senior majoring in journalism at IUP, is from Allentown.