The Stanford housing bubble

Opinion by Joe Troderman
July 23, 2014, 7:36 p.m.

The housing draw can be stressful, but in the end, everyone gets housing. At least, that is what’s supposed to happen. Every year, though, many tier-three students will find “unassigned” written on their draw results.

This year, 249 students were unassigned. When unassigned, students must participate in the waiting list. If still unassigned, students go through “continuous housing” and theoretically may not have housing until the end of week one (what one does in the meantime, housing does not make clear on its website). And the number of unassigned students has been steadily increasing over the years: Only 34 and 33 students were left unassigned in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

JOE TRODERMAN/The Stanford Daily
(JOSEPH TRODERMAN/The Stanford Daily)

Unlike many other universities across the country, Stanford guarantees housing for all four years for its students. This is a fantastic policy and a bright point in an often dim R&DE administration. But as class size at Stanford has increased, and may even grow more, continuing this policy into the future becomes increasingly difficult. Moreover, for the students who already are unassigned each year, the waitlist process can be anything but sweet.

The new Manzanita dorm, which will house 121 students and a resident fellow, theoretically should help alleviate growing pains. However, this number is still less than half of the 249 students left unhoused this year alone. Given the need for housing, this new dorm should have been built to fit more students. If it were simply 5 stories tall rather than 3, it could house approximately 200 students. But the design has been set and construction has started, so now is too late to change this aspect.

Generally, there are two ways to provide housing for everyone on campus: build more housing or have fewer students on campus at a given time. There are many difficulties to building more buildings on campus. Central campus cannot hold many (or possibly any) more building due to laws concerning building density and earthquakes, and building outward creates unnecessary sprawl and puts dorms too far away from classes.

The other option is to have fewer students on campus. The University already works fairly actively to do this, with one key way being the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP). Stanford loves boasting about the number of students who go abroad (at roughly 50 percent) and its plans to expand BOSP, but in the present with the difficulties of going abroad (especially for athletes and some engineering majors), it is not realistic for every student in the University to study away from campus.

But there is another way to have less students on campus at a time without sending students overseas. That way is by means of Stanford’s summer term. Dartmouth College, another university with three terms in its academic year, faced serious housing concerns when it became coeducational in 1972. It simply was not possible to add more students while maintaining housing for everyone. To combat this, Dartmouth implemented a required summer term for all sophomores on campus (dubbed “sophomore summer”).

The advantage of sophomore summer were threefold for Dartmouth: It solved its housing problem, it helps to maintain a lively campus in a time that would otherwise be much more like a ghost town in Hanover, New Hampshire. At Stanford too, it would help businesses out a bit and keep our beautiful campus (which costs a lot of money in energy and water to maintain as such) from being underused. By requiring all sophomores to participate at Dartmouth, sophomore summer also facilitates fantastic class bonding. And because sophomores are all on campus for summer, they then take a term of their choice off the following year in the fall, winter or spring, effectively creating more space in the dorms during those terms.

At Stanford, assuming an equal number of people took each term off, this would create about 600 vacancies per term. During this term off, students would have a unique opportunity to travel, participate in internships (with little competition from other students who are not free during the school year) or focus on research or a startup. The summer term would also help ensure that the University’s research labs will continue to have undergraduates in them over the summer without requiring summer funding.

At Stanford University, mostly athletes and high school students consume dorm space during the summer, but there are still open dormitories. It is an ineffective use of the resource of space to not fill those rooms in the summer when housing struggles to find room for students during the rest of the year. Expanding summer term at Stanford would have all the same benefits as it has at Dartmouth.

Many Stanford core classes are only offered during one term. This means that missing a core class can put a student behind a whole year in his or her major if they miss a single course. During a summer term, majors could offer some of these core classes a second time, which would make student schedules more flexible, making opportunities to study abroad or just fit a certain class into one’s schedule more feasible. The downside, perhaps, would come for faculty, who in general have the opportunity to focus on research during summer rather than teach courses. That being said though, for core classes, offering summer terms would make the classes smaller during the school year, alleviating strain on faculty in this regard. So it is a tradeoff.

But tradeoffs aside, opening up summer term would definitively would solve that issue of seeing “unassigned” on draw results in a much more conclusive way that is less reliant on the hope that students will want to get away from campus and study abroad.


Contact Joseph Troderman at [email protected]

Joe Troderman is a columnist for The Stanford Daily. He is a member of the class of 2016 from Canton, Mass. (it's near Boston) pursuing a major in chemical engineering. Joe is passionate about the environment and enjoys playing poor-quality improvisational music on any stringed instrument he can find. To contact him, please mail him at jtrod93 'at' or P.O. Box 13387, Stanford, Calif. (even if it is just ad hominem attacks on his character, it will make his day to receive a letter that isn't for car insurance or bank accounts).

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