Column: Northeastern University must stop holding students hostage financially

Housing+selection+for+fall+2021+has+begun.

Harriet Rovniak

Housing selection for fall 2021 has begun.

Madison Boudreau Popovic, columnist

Moving into college is always hard because of all the preparation. But even once you get settled, one of the most stressful parts of college living is selecting future residences. Housing selection draws to a close for yet another semester, but the PAWS process continues for months after official selection days, which is when Northeastern housing places you in a dorm or apartment based on a form that students provide them. Selecting housing not only reminded me of the NU housing crisis, but also served as a reminder of the other ways in which NU takes advantage of its students financially. We desperately need solutions so future students don’t have to struggle. 

I was fortunate enough to receive a decent selection day and time. However, it became evident about two days before my selection date that the only housing that was left was incredibly expensive. Economy and standard housing were essentially gone, only leaving enhanced housing which is the most expensive option. Students who did not have a time slot on the first or second day for second-year housing were out of luck if they wanted affordable housing. The only options were to pay for more expensive housing or enter the PAWS system and hope other housing options become available in the coming months. Neither of those sound promising. 

In the past, Northeastern students’ search for on-campus housing was often futile. I’m not saying that Northeastern’s housing department is intentionally stressing out students who are looking for housing, but it is evident a housing crisis exists as 53% of NU students live off campus, according to U.S. News & World Report. Even though some may do so in order to gain more independence, many also do so because it is cheaper than some on-campus living options. Regardless, it is clear that this issue is not minor. 

In an attempt to increase housing options, housing was available for first-year students at The Midtown Hotel, which is obviously not on NU’s campus. Some students who lived there have said they felt isolated from the NU community. Living in a hotel room is not the same as living on campus and in a dorm, as students are deprived of key components of the traditional college experience. When Northeastern has to outsource its housing in such a manner, it becomes increasingly apparent that the current state of on-campus housing needs to be systematically reevaluated.

While many colleges don’t require students to live on campus at all, NU makes it mandatory to live on campus for at least the first two years, unless you are a transfer student. This policy restricts opportunities for those who can’t afford housing on campus but are somehow stuck paying the bill rather than trying to find a more affordable place off campus. The university requiring first- and second-year students to live on campus is part of the problem. Second years are allowed to live off campus if they petition for it, but many do not know that this is an option. An easy solution is to allow all students, or at least second-years, to live off campus if they wish. This would both ease the financial burden for students who cannot afford expensive on-campus living options and clear up housing for those who wish to stay on campus for convenience.

How can Northeastern and other colleges create more housing options? Finding a solution to this problem is long overdue.

Another solution could be making more buildings. What if NU, and other colleges, allocate more funds toward housing? It would be a noteworthy way to use some of the ridiculously priced tuition that students have to pay. LightView was built by a collaboration between Northeastern and American Campus Communities. However, these apartments aren’t affordable for many NU students and gentrify the surrounding community. By building LightView, Northeastern is hurting the growth of Latinx, Asian and Black communities in Boston. Northeastern not only needs to make more housing, but they also need to make new housing that’s affordable.  

Furthermore, NU students are not just robbed in terms of housing options — they are almost forced to stay on campus if they want financial aid. When I opened my financial aid letters for the fall and spring semesters, there was a catch: If I want to renew this financial aid reward, I must live on campus. It is almost as if NU is holding students hostage: get financial aid and worry about housing semester after semester or move off campus and worry about losing these aid packages.

Northeastern’s billing also targets honors students who are promised a $3,500 fee waiver for a first-year summer dialogue. However, as COVID-19 persists, students began to question if this waiver can apply to future dialogues. NU has yet to adjust their policy regarding this waiver. It seems as if NU is looking to take as much money as possible from their students.

It’s necessary for me to make it clear that NU financial aid’s department is incredibly helpful. Whenever I called regarding any billing issues or with general questions, staff answered them and, if no one had the answer, I received an email from them after it was figured out. College is generally a money-making business, so it’s understandable why billing rules are strict. However, Northeastern is a non-profit and should be more willing to listen to the concerns of the NU community because, after all, they’re the ones footing the bill.

It’s outrageous to keep worrying year after year about whether or not affordable housing will be available. People who apply to NU as first-year students are guaranteed housing for four years, but NU fails to consistently provide adequate options for housing in these four years, creating undue stress for your undergraduate career.

Madison Boudreau Popovic is a first-year political science and business administration combined major. She can be reached at [email protected]