Rising ASU dorm rates rattle regents - East Valley Tribune: News

Rising ASU dorm rates rattle regents

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 10:30 pm | Updated: 9:56 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Katie Lawson didn't choose to live at ASU's newest dorm for its private bathrooms and study lounges.Lawson said she applied to Arizona State University so close to the deadline last year that she had little choice. The university enrolls thousands more freshmen than it has beds on its Tempe campus.

So Lawson had to pick between Hassayampa Academic Village, by far ASU's most expensive dormitory, and living in an apartment for the first two weeks of her freshman year while the residential life department searched for an empty bed in a less expensive dorm.

She moved into Hassayampa and accepted that she'd have to pay $1,300 more, on average, than at the university's other dorms.

"I know I can pay through loans," said Lawson, an education major.

Tuition and textbook costs are widely blamed for fueling the skyrocketing cost of higher education.

However, for a growing number of ASU students, on-campus housing rates are just as culpable.

Hassayampa's four towers cost more than $100 million to build. But neither the university nor the state's taxpayers paid a cent.

Like most of ASU's new dorms, a private developer built and now runs Hassayampa.

And students living there ultimately cover those expenses, with rates for new dorms substantially higher than those for older ones.

Hassayampa's residents, many of them freshmen, paid more than $5,600 for housing this school year. Most students living at the Palo Verde dorm complex paid $4,200.

The Arizona Board of Regents is scheduled to consider raising Hassayampa's annual rates to $5,900 at its meeting today. The board might also set rates for Vista del Sol, a private dorm that is slated to open later this year, which could surpass Hassayampa.

However, some of the regents have raised alarms over student housing costs.

"We have discussed the higher rates and expressed concerns internally," said Ernest Calder����the board's vice president.

Those concerns could become public today.

Dennis DeConcini, a regent and former U.S. senator, said he might oppose the rates unless ASU shows that students can avoid the newly built dorms if they cannot afford the rates.

"Here, the source of funds is the students," DeConcini said, "which is (who) we're supposed to protect."

Michael Coakley, ASU student housing director, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

ASU's Residence Hall Association, representing dorm residents, has no say in the rates charged at private dorms.

Jane Christie, the association's director, said students are worried the university is creating a system that provides new dorms for those with greater means, while others have to live in aging rooms.

"It's important that all students have the ability to participate in any kind of living experience," said Christie, a senior studying journalism.

Universities have been turning over dorm construction to private companies for more than a decade.

ASU followed in recent years as it has struggled to persuade state lawmakers to provide public money for dormitories.

"They don't know how to raise the money when the Legislature won't give them money for even building renewal, much less new dorms," DeConcini said.

Arizona Capital Finance and Facilities Corp. owns Hassayampa. American Campus Communities owns Vista del Sol and is building a $120 million campus for ASU's Barrett Honors College.

In the fall, 8,664 freshmen enrolled as full-time ASU students. There is room for only 6,500 students in Tempe campus dorms.

ASU has embraced private dorms because they add student housing - almost 4,000 beds on campus so far - without burdening taxpayers with debt, said Leah Hardesty, a university spokeswoman.

ASU decides how to pay for new dorms on a case-by-case basis, Hardesty said.

Hassayampa is the university's first privately built, on-campus residence hall, with space for nearly 2,000 students.

It also has classrooms and retail space, though it offers virtually the same amenities as ASU's other 12 dorms.

But there are some differences.

Bill Francis, an ASU freshman, asked to live at Hassayampa so he could have a private bathroom.

Most dorms require students to use large, communal bathrooms.

"It was a lot more expensive," Francis said.

But that expense isn't a concern because the global studies major is a National Merit Scholar, providing him enough financial aid to pay the higher rate.

For decades, Manzanita Hall was ASU's biggest and, with its triangular windows, most recognizable dorm. Now, it's showing its age and has earned students' scorn.

"It was new, it looked nice," said Ellen McManus, an ASU freshman, explaining why she wanted to live at Hassayampa. "And Manzi was, like, Manzi."

Manzanita costs $1,600 less than Hassayampa.

Francis is looking to move off-campus with friends next school year and was surprised at how much space he can rent for the price of his two-bedroom dorm spot.

"It's the same price as if we rented a house," Francis said.

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