On Campus or Off Campus?

Where, oh where, to live? It is a question students wrestle with as they prepare for each new school year at Pepperdine. Is it better to opt for the ease and convenience of living on campus, where classes are but a walk or shuttle ride away, and all utilties are included? Or is there money to be saved by looking for an off-campus apartment, which may feature a lower per-month cost but can also involve a commute and hidden fees? In a housing market as tough as Malibu’s, there are no easy answers.

Jami Lambert
Staff Writer

The cost to live on campus will undergo another increase next school year, and with limited spaces available for upper-classmen, many students are left with few affordable options. As the price of real estate and rent in the surrounding community soars, many students are forced to rely on loans and part-time jobs to afford their accommodations.

In a city that boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the nation, the phrase “affordable housing” seems to be an oxymoron. With the announcement of housing placements for next fall quickly approaching, some students are left to wonder if they will be able to afford to live, on or off campus, and what the university will do to help ease the financial burden.

The cost to live in a double-occupancy room in a standard residence hall will increase 5.3 percent to $4,550 next semester, while the cost of a single room in the Drescher Honors community will jump 4.6 percent, to $5,040 per semester. Although it is not as steep as the 7 percent tuition increase students will face next year, the added expense is still a concern for some.

“I take out loans for housing, so when (the cost of housing) increases it just means I have to borrow more money,” said sophomore Selina Ruiz, a Towers resident. “I guess it doesn’t seem to affect me now, but it will in the future when I have to pay those massive loans off.”

Although the price of dorm life has a sticker shock effect for many, Pepperdine’s housing costs are fairly comparable to other major universities in the area. A double-occupancy room at UCLA costs anywhere from $9,589 to $10,234 per year, while a similar room at University of California, San Diego costs approximately $7,990.

Even though the rates remain comparable, there are students who feel they are not getting their money’s worth. With the record rainfall this year and the recent power outages, not to mention the ant infestations and maintenance issues in the dorms, some residents said they are fed up with dealing with the problems.

Sophomore John Deniston said the problems he experienced in the suite halls last year outweighed the cheaper price. Consequently, he decided to move into the newer Drescher campus housing for next year.

“The second floor dorm room I occupied last year had repeated roof and floor leaks, issues that I felt were inexcusable given the price of the accommodations,” he said.

Sophomore Diana Hernandez is concerned about the security of her Towers room.

“There are no locks on the bathroom doors, so your bathroom-mates can come in whenever they please,” she said. “I also occasionally struggle with trusting the cleaning staff because they have access to my room in Towers.”

But an equal number of students say they are happy with the services they receive. Freshman Michelle Petty said she thinks she is getting a lot for her money.

“I feel like I’m paying for a good service,” she said. “We have a cleaning staff, what do we have to complain about?”

Hernandez also takes the good with the bad.

“The rooms at Pepperdine are quite luxurious compared to other campuses I visited, so I try not to forget that,” she said.

Director of Housing Jim Brock explained that some issues are simply unavoidable for people who live in a beautiful yet volatile environment like Malibu.

“While we love the beautiful views and the privacy that we have on campus, being out where we are means that we do have to deal with power outages and pests,” he said.

In 2004, Pepperdine collected more than $22 million for room and board, up 19 percent from 2003. Currently, room and board accounts for approximately 10 percent of the university’s overall revenue.

In addition to the cost of campus housing, there is no guarantee to students hoping to be placed in one of the residential facilities. This year, 360 students who applied for on-campus housing were turned away, forcing them to make other arrangements, and about 200 students seeking campus housing for the fall will be wait-listed.  As Pepperdine continues to admit larger freshman classes, the problem will only get worse unless more spaces are made available for undergraduate use. According to Brock, the university plans to do just that, beginning next summer.

Housing and Community Living is working with Construction and Planning to refurbish the standard suite halls to increase the number of occupants they can lodge. The plans are still in the beginning phases, but HCL hopes to add anywhere from 300 to 450 bed spaces. Brock said the electrical and plumbing concerns experienced recently were a major catalyst in the plans to refurbish the residence halls.

Brock also said that, although the Honor Apartments on the Drescher campus were built specifically for graduate students, Seaver College will continue to use the facilities for a few more years.

“We don’t expect graduate housing demands to drastically increase for a few years,” Brock said. “So we’ll be able to continue to use many of these popular apartments for undergraduate Honor housing.” Two-thirds of the Drescher housing is occupied by Seaver students.

While the Drescher campus remains open to undergrads, the George Page Residential Complex will continue to house only law students and married couples. The complex stopped housing undergrads at the end of the Spring 2003 semester when the number of married couples requesting campus housing increased from 7 to 27.

With the costs and uncertainty, it only makes sense that students would look elsewhere for housing. However, the Malibu community is not what might be considered a typical college town, and the price of rent and real estate reflects that.

“Malibu is a typical college town like Michael Jackson is a typical pop artist,” Deniston said. “Definitely unusual, occasionally intriguing, but on the whole, overrated.”

Deniston said her view springs from the lack of a presence the university has in the community, and the reluctance of most business owners, including landlords, to accommodate Pepperdine students. Senior Catherine Redfearn agrees.

“Most college towns center around the needs of the college students and celebrate the school pride,” she said. “I feel like Malibu likes to pretend there isn’t a university right up the hill.”

Redfearn moved into the Malibu Canyon Villas (popularly referred to as the “Stinkies”) this year, after finding out that she did not get a place on campus. She lives in a two-bedroom unit that costs $2,500 per month.

That price is low compared to the cost of many other area apartments. A similar unit at Malibu Bella Mar on Cavalleri Road runs anywhere between $3,500 and $6,000. Despite the high cost, Bella Mar is a popular community for Pepperdine students. Most students cram two or three people into each bedroom to lessen the cost, because of the convenient location just a few miles from campus.

Students looking to purchase a condo or house while they are in school can expect to pay around $2 million. Rick Wallace, a local real estate agent, said that while some parents are willing to shell out that much money, the market in Malibu is very competitive.

“The competition to live in Malibu is fierce,” he said. “Maybe 10,000 to 20,000 people per year go out and look at homes hoping to buy. Three hundred can afford to buy in the end.”

Wallace also said a lot of parents give up trying to buy a house that they will most likely only need for four years because they simply cannot afford the minimum $500,000 that it takes to buy even the lowest price apartment, or the $1 million for the cheapest house.

Other students, in an attempt to further reduce their costs of living, choose to rent apartments in Calabasas or Woodland Hills, among other valley locations. Rent at the Malibu Canyon Apartments in Calabasas ranges from $1,300 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $2,100 for a three-bedroom unit. Oakwood Apartments in Woodland Hills range from $510 per month to $1,600 per month for each resident. While the price of rent is less, the cost of transportation could make up for it. As gas prices approach the $3 mark per gallon, driving nine miles through Malibu Canyon for class isn’t cheap.

Other costs to consider when looking off campus are housing deposits that can run as much as $5,000 at the beginning of a lease term, and the cost of food. Some students estimate that the additional costs per month for gas, food and entertainment can be up to $600. So while it may be possible to save money by moving off campus, a student should take into consideration all the hidden costs of having his or her own place. And unless Pepperdine decides to move its campus to a less desired area, students will have no choice but to endure the rising costs of living on the Southern California coast.