They’re Not All Palaces
From price to quality, inequalities are vast within 5C housing
Although the Claremont Colleges are known for high quality residence life, a number of students are left with unappealing dorms, and some with considerably high room charges. Even as Pomona and Pitzer tout on their websites that the facilities are so wonderful that faculty and staff live in them, in reality the quality varies.
During the room selection process each spring, there are always coveted rooms. Whether it is newer residence halls like Sontag and Claremont at Pomona and CMC, respectively, or lively halls like North and Browning at Harvey Mudd and Scripps, every student has a dream dorm. During room draw, planning and strategizing for rooms on campus becomes a fierce endeavor. Students visit rooms, view floor plans and pick roommates, all in the hope of getting a “good” room. However, not every student is pleased with their final accommodations. Masked by the colleges’ meticulous groundskeeping and numerous construction projects are residence halls that few students covet.
While first-year students at Pitzer live in the complex of Pitzer, Atherton, and Sanborn halls, all built in 2007, the remaining two halls, Holden and Mead, built between 1964 and 1968, house the the rest of Pitzer’s on-campus students. In the years since construction, they have seen few updates to their cinder-block construction and are showing wear and tear. Although some Pitzer students seem to enjoy Mead Hall for its suite-style living and air conditioning, Holden finds few supporters.
“It’s so dirty!” exclaims Lauren Sampson PZ ’14, a resident of Holden Hall. When first arriving at her new room, she claims that she spent two days bleaching and scrubbing the floors and bathroom. Because of the building’s age, Sampson said, “no one has taken care of it.”
At Claremont McKenna, the majority of the 13 residence halls are holdovers from the institution’s post-war past. The older dorms at CMC show their true military colors, reflecting an almost barracks-like design. Social life is a defining aspect for CMC’s housing, with the lively North Quad, the subdued South Quad, and Mid Quad acting as a happy medium of the two.
As for the buildings themselves, the flashy Claremont Hall, completed in 2008, remains the most modern and distinct dorm at the College, save for the three elevated “towers” on the south part of the campus. The senior apartments, of course, also remain ever popular. The four halls in North Quad were built between 1948 and 1950, though they all received renovations in 2003. The halls in Mid-Quad, however, have a more textured past, built between the mid-50s and early-60s, and renovated in the late 90s. From speaking with students, the dimly lit and relatively isolated halls of Benson and Berger in Mid-Quad are the least favored on campus.
For an institution whose residence halls have been likened to “palaces” by the Princeton Review on multiple occasions, Pomona’s dorm quality is far from consistent.
In terms of defining the quality of the college’s residences, one need only look at whether they are in the North or South of the campus. According to the College’s website, the majority of South campus halls have large sections reserved for first-year students. In contrast, juniors and seniors usually select four of the six North campus halls. Standouts, of course, are the new Sontag and Pomona halls, featuring full-size beds.
Scripps’ residence halls are characterized not by their modern amenities, but by their old-fashioned charm. Joanie Pradhan SC ’13 noted that the quality of the college’s dorms comes from their beauty. “Overall, [the dorms] are really nice. If you complained about something, I don’t know what it would be,” she said.
Pradhan claimed that Kimberly Hall — originally designed for Harvey Mudd’s female students — is the least desirable dorm on campus because of its utilitarian aesthetic.
At Harvey Mudd, the personalities of each hall’s residents, rather than the building itself, seem to define its likability. Students queried put less of a premium on the quality of the room, but of the culture. As anyone knows who has walked through Harvey Mudd’s campus and heard the shouts of “NORTH,” pride runs high.
The Cost of Residence Life
With the variances in quality of life throughout the Consortium, it is no surprise that housing fees at each college are different. According to information on tuition and fees compiled from the Colleges websites, the best bargain comes from Scripps, with a rate of $3,500 per semester for housing, regardless of the size or type of room. Harvey Mudd and Pomona also offer flat rates for their students, coming in at $3,641 and $3,879 respectively for 2011-2012.
CMC and Pitzer both price their rooms based on type and size. A standard double at CMC costs $3,617, a single $4,067.50, and senior apartments ranging in price from $4,067-$4,087. The most expensive rooms in the consortium are at Pitzer, which charges $3,902 for a double and a whopping $4,432 for a single — almost $1000 more than the price of a comparable room at Scripps.
Still, no matter the quality, many students accept the steep costs for the benefits of living on campus. “Even if it is too expensive,” said Pradhan, “I don’t feel like I would want to live off campus unless I really needed to.”
With the construction of new dorms on campus, differences between the dorms are becoming more apparent. One way the administrations can address these discrepancies is by pricing dorms based on overall quality. Instead of simply adjusting by single, double, or apartment, the colleges could divide costs in other ways. For example, a full size bed in the new Sontag hall could cost more than a twin-size in Walker.
There could be issues with the fairness of this model. Considering that at Pitzer first-year students are required to live in newer halls, the “first year would be seen as too expensive,” said Sampson. If this model was implemented, students in upper grades, who have more choices for housing, would be able to select rooms based on cost while first-years would be forced to pay a premium.
Pricing rooms this way could also segregate the colleges socioeconomically; lower-income students may not pay for the higher-priced rooms.
Of course, another issue for the Colleges, beyond quality of life, is the ability to live in residence halls at all. Over the past years, a number of the campuses, most notably CMC, Pitzer and Scripps, have had to house students at Pomona or off-campus apartments due to lack of space. As yield rates grow, the colleges are faced with housing more students than expected. With high costs and the sales pitch of a residential college experience, it is very discouraging when a student does not even get the chance to live in a less desired dorm on their campus.
Looking to the future, most of the Claremont Colleges realize the need to modernize dorm facilities to match rising expectations and class sizes. Pomona recently completed the new Sontag and Pomona Halls, while Pitzer College has already instituted a three-phase Residential Life Project to replace all existing dorms with new facilities, the second of which will be completed this summer. Claremont McKenna introduced a new Master Plan that calls for the building of new residence halls. Scripps and Harvey Mudd have also looked into new buildings, the latter on Linde Athletic Field.
Even if all of the housing in Claremont had the perfect amenities, favorites would still emerge. From the location of the building to the residents, there are a multitude of factors that make a dorm popular. Based on the current situation, as long as students continue to voice their concerns and comments, even in the face of rising costs, the schools will feel pressure to improve housing options and overall availability.