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Coping with High Housing Costs in College

Hans Johnson May 17, 2019
photo - Young Woman Studying on Bed in Dormitory

California’s housing crisis affects college students around the state. Over the past eight years—even as tuition has been stable at California’s public colleges and universities—the cost of attending college has risen because housing costs have gone up. Most students at California’s community colleges and in the California State University system pay more for housing than they do for tuition. At the University of California, housing costs are on par with tuition (for those who pay full tuition).

One way students limit their housing costs is by living with their parents or other family members. For most students, living at home is much cheaper than living in housing provided by the university or in an apartment off campus. Housing costs vary across systems, but in every case living with family is much less expensive than other housing options. And the savings are large—as much as $10,000 a year.

figure - It’s Far Cheaper for College Students to Live at Home

In fact, the large majority of California undergraduates do live at home (69% in 2017), and that share has been increasing over the past few decades, according to the American Community Survey. Moreover, California college students are substantially more likely to live at home than their counterparts in the rest of the nation.

figure - Most California Undergraduates Live at Home

Partly, this difference reflects the mix of colleges in California. Community college students are especially likely to live with parents—not surprising given the broad geographic coverage of this system. And CSU students are more likely to live at home than UC students. But the difference in living situations between California students and their peers nationwide almost certainly reflects California’s higher housing costs.

Living at home while attending college can be a great way to reduce costs. But it also has a downside. Research suggests that students who live at home are less connected to their college—and less likely to graduate.

California’s colleges and universities cannot solve the state’s housing crisis, but many of them are working to expand on-campus housing opportunities. They are also working with the state to develop ways to expand grants to cover housing costs as well as tuition. The governor’s proposed budget includes $40 million to provide emergency housing support for UC and CSU students (including those struggling with homelessness).

With no quick solution to the high cost of housing in California, thoughtful actions will be critical to providing support to college students across the state.

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