The Fees for Dorms at this College are More Expensive Than Tuition

The prestigious University of California, Berkeley may be a public institution, but its housing and meal fees exceed those of many private schools. It costs more to live and eat on campus than to pay in-state tuition. 

A December 2014 report from U.S. News & World Report reveals Berkeley lodging and food expenses total $15,438 per year, with tuition and fees coming out to just $13,844. Only three New York institutions (NYU, New School, St. John's) and one California school (Harvey Mudd) beat out Berkeley's living costs, and unlike UC Berkeley, they're private institutions, which generally have higher tuition costs.

Berkeley's website provides roughly the same numbers. Room and board plus meal fees come out to $15,422 annually, and tuition is $13,878 per year. Out-of-state students at Berkeley have to shell out more than $50,000 per year for tuition and housing costs. 

A main reason for Berkeley's expensive living costs is property value. California is home to many cities with exorbitant living costs, and because Berkeley is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's considered valuable real estate for the booming tech industry. Housing fees are also high because space is limited and there's not enough room to accommodate all students. According to Berkeley's website, all new students are guaranteed housing as long as they apply by the application deadline, and almost 100 percent of incoming freshmen opt for student housing. But on-campus lodging is only guaranteed for that first year, and only 27 percent of Berkeley's total student population live in student housing. 

Christopher Palmer, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, told student publication The Daily Californian that lowering housing costs would spark chaos. Everyone would be scrambling to get housing, inevitably resulting in a lottery system. Palmer didn't think high student fees would bring down university enrollment, but acknowledged that it could ultimately deter low-income students from attending the school.

Because Berkeley does not require first-year students to live on campus, Forbes didn't include it in a 2010 compilation of most expensive college dorms, but the publication did note Berkeley dorms are "expensive." In 2014, College Finder published an infographic of the most expensive dorms in each state, listing Berkeley as the most expensive one in California:

Most expensive dorms

On the Daily Californian blog (known to students as the Clog), Rachel Feder responded to the infographic with disappointment. 

"We UC Berkeley students know our dorms are expensive — we just didn’t know how they compared with other dorms around the country," Feder wrote. "Our dorms are nice, of course. But unless you’re living in the largest, most recently renovated room in [student housing option] Clark Kerr Campus, it’s hard to imagine why our dorms need to be so expensive ... What exactly is the campus doing with all the dorming dollars it so ruthlessly takes from us?"

In 2013, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Berkeley students were creating "mini dorms" out of houses to keep their living costs down, even though that often meant cramming way too many people into a tiny home and irritating neighbors as a result. 

College fees have spiraled out of control since the recession, so it's not a surprise that an already expensive area isn't exactly affordable on a student budget. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that tuition has gone up nearly 30 percent since the recession. A major reason for this is declining support from states, forcing students to shoulder more financial burdens just to go to school.