Credit: Rain Mazumder | Mustang News

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Editor’s note: This article was updated on Sept. 27 to correct the title and display of pie charts.

Ellie Angold opened her laptop to register for classes for Spring 2022. Claiming a seat in a class at Cal Poly is notoriously tricky, so Angold was excited to be sitting high on her class waitlists. She went to confirm her classes.

Then, a hold appeared on her screen. All of the classes she registered for had disappeared. 

The hold, from University Housing, stated that Angold had yet to pay for housing damages. Except it wasn’t a housing damage — Angold couldn’t register for classes because she didn’t sign up to live on-campus for the upcoming academic year.  

Angold, along with about half of Cal Poly’s students, is a part of the two-year housing program that requires students to live on-campus for two years, depending on which college they are enrolled in. 

After leaving in the fall for health reasons, Angold did not fulfill the two-year housing requirement for her major; she had only lived on-campus for a year and a quarter. Because of this, there was a hold implemented until she signed up to live on-campus for the next academic year. Now, Angold said she’s behind on classes and her degree.

The university’s Master Plan aims to house 65% of Cal Poly’s student body and all of first- and second-year students by 2035. To achieve this goal, students from the six colleges will gradually be phased into a requirement to live on-campus for two years. 

Mustang News surveyed students from the colleges that already have a two-year housing requirement. Of the students who responded, 96.7% said students should have the choice to live on or off campus.

“Graduation and retention are only part of the reason we are in the process of implementing the two-year requirement,” University Housing director Jo Campbell said. “More broadly it has to do with providing students with a comprehensive support network and energizing campus community that serves their academic and extracurricular needs.” 

When living on-campus, Angold, diagnosed with celiac, became sick from eating cross-contaminated Campus Dining food– to the point she couldn’t leave her bed most mornings.  

Mustang News sent a survey to the 4,395 students from the colleges requiring living on-campus for two years, and 517 (about 11%) replied. 

Out of factors such as safety, location and social environment or a combination of such factors, 53% of students surveyed said cost was the most important factor in their housing search.

And a strong majority– 73%– of students surveyed said living on campus was not worth the price.

In the Poly Canyon Village (PCV) on-campus apartments, a single-bedroom apartment costs about $1,500 a month and a two-bedroom is about $1,300. Meanwhile, according to a University Housing report on rates as of March 4, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom option off-campus is about $1,135. 

Animal science junior Josh Roseman said it was nice to not have to stress about finding a place to live in San Luis Obispo’s infamous housing market.

“But that kind of came with the expensive price,” Roseman said.

Last year, agricultural systems junior Blaze Swan only lived on-campus in PCV for the fall quarter and agreed it came with a hefty cost, leaving him to decide to live off-campus the following quarters. As a Paso Robles local, he qualified for an exemption. 

“$1,500, I guess that’s the going rate for San Luis Obispo, but I’m pretty staunchly middle class,” Swan said. “I’m kind of a little bit falling between the cracks here.” 

Kaley Schneider | Mustang News

Don’t want to pay $1,500 a month? Try applying for an exemption. 

Looking into how disabilities or financial reasons could harbor an exemption, Roseman considered the option after a “chaotic” freshman year in isolation. 

“I wasn’t sure about the timings of things — I wasn’t sure how the whole system worked,” Roseman said. “So I looked into exemptions of saying, ‘Hey, I do have some disabilities that I may have been able to utilize to get an exemption.” 

Roseman ultimately decided not to apply for the exemption, swayed by the guarantee that he’d have a place to live.

Animal science sophomore Rebecca Row lived in the Sierra Madre dorms last year. After finding a more affordable place off-campus, she attempted to get an exemption for her second year on the premise of financial and mental health reasons. 

“It’s insane — you have to pay gas for your car, groceries, all that stuff is also really expensive,” Row said. “How am I gonna afford to pay $1,500 a month? Like, to just have shelter?”

For the 2021-22 academic year, 513 exemptions from incoming first years and those part of the two-year housing program were submitted, and 462 were approved. This year (2022-23), 677 total exemptions were filed, with 96% approved. Row was one of the 605 continuing students that asked to live off-campus.

To verify her mental health reasons, the exemption process required a note from a professional, such as a psychiatrist, therapist or school counselor. Obtaining a note was difficult for Row.

In May, after emailing the Dean of Students about financial needs twice, Row had yet to get a response. She was also told to email the Disability Resource Center to get approval for mental health needs. Yet a part of the paperwork was official approval from a professional.

“It’s just a lot of steps that seem really unnecessary,” Row said. “I do have a psychiatrist, but I can’t talk to them until I go back home. But what about the students who don’t have any of them? What are they going to do?” 

This leg work isn’t always the case with exemptions. For example, the Cal State University COVID-19 vaccine mandate allows students to apply for both medical and religious exemptions — neither of which require actual proof, such as a doctor’s note, in order to be accepted.

Housing all students may run the risk of compromising their freedom 

Cal Poly’s Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) will also be involved in the Master Plan, ultimately affecting the new students that are required to live on-campus.

Currently, freshmen cannot bring cars to campus. TAPS Director Marlene Cramer said she expects that ban on cars to likely extend to on-campus sophomores, as the university’s expansion has meant fewer parking resources.

The Mustang News survey showed that 98.5% of respondents thought sophomores should be allowed to bring cars to campus.

Currently, students living on-campus are expected to pay an average of $677 per year if they choose to bring a car, compared to about $462 for off-campus students to park on-campus. 

Faculty pay an annual fee ranging from $62 to $140.40 to park on campus, depending on location. According to civil and environmental engineering professor Anurag Pande, the faculty union contract subsidizes parking, allowing it to be “too cheap.”

For those that might not have a car or choose not to bring one, there are options on campus.

TAPS subsidizes Zipcars, staff carpools, vanpools, EV charging, bikes and partners with rideshare programs to promote cleaner transportation and incentivize students to not bring a car, although spreading the word on programs has been a “challenge,” according to Cramer.

People argue two-year housing requirement is based on ‘biased’ study

Seven years ago, in 2015, the university presented a case for student retention and living on-campus to the 2015 ASI student board in an attempt to understand the student opinion on the second-year housing requirement. After this presentation, the ASI board strongly opposed the proposal — citing the study as “biased” and without “significant data,” as outlined in an ASI resolution

The study stated that students living on campus were more likely to graduate and complete their degree, given that they had more access to on-campus resources. 

However, at the time, associate statistics professor Steve Rein pointed out that the study had its faults: a biased sample, an assumption that correlation showed causation and a lack of significant data to show the change in retention and graduation rates for on-campus students.

Despite this opposition, the two-year housing requirement was implemented in 2017 by President Jeffrey Armstrong. Of the six colleges, the College of Architecture and Environmental Design set precedent as the first college to require its students to live on-campus for two years.

Alongside the university-wide Master Plan is the Housing Future Plan — which laid out a plan to house more students. The university would build more residence halls over the next 13 years to hold about 15,000 total beds across campus.

As more housing is built, more students from the unphased colleges will be required to live on campus for two full years. There’s not a particular order to phase in colleges. University spokesperson Heather Young said the number of beds available in the buildings will correlate with the number of students in the college. For example, if there were only 1,000 beds and CLA had under 1,000 students while CSM had more than 1,000, CLA would be phased in first.

‘Some students can’t afford it’: Reflecting on the effects of the two-year housing requirement

Agricultural business junior Kaleb Wright lived in the Cerro Vista Apartments his freshman year and the PCV apartments the following year. Having his first year of college during the COVID-19 pandemic and in isolation, Wright appreciates the guarantee of on-campus housing to meet new people. 

“It doesn’t feel like I’ve been required to for two years,” Wright said. “I haven’t minded it because COVID took away my first year. Having the requirements gave me a chance to have a guaranteed spot on campus, which is what I personally wanted.”  

However, Wright has felt “trapped” at times living on-campus, despite having a car. 

“I’ve definitely had struggles throughout the last year and a half that have made it times it feels like the worst possible situation for me was being stuck on-campus,” Wright said.   

Reflecting on his experience in the apartments during COVID-19, Wright said that the two-year housing requirement can be “counterintuitive” to students’ mental health and well-being. 

“For people that are maybe shy or are struggling with mental health, anxiety, depression and things like that, on-campus makes it so much worse,” Wright said.

Roseman said he appreciated the security of guaranteed, on-campus living.  

“There are some pros like the fact that if you really don’t know what you’re doing for housing, [Cal Poly] can kind of help direct you into that. You know you’re signing back up on the campus,” Roseman said.  

However, Roseman said the transition period where some colleges are required to live on-campus for two years while other colleges aren’t can create a social divide. Roseman said he couldn’t room with his friend for his second year due to the requirement. When it came time for Roseman to find off-campus housing for his third year, his friend had already been living with other roommates for a year and he’d have to choose between them.

“You are kind of isolated with the people who are in your same housing situation — they’re the people that you’re probably going to have to house [with] for the rest of the college experience,” Roseman said. “They’ve almost divided groups into people who are required and people who aren’t.” 

For Row, it took a couple of months to finally receive an exemption for campus housing. Now, she lives in an off-campus apartment at a fraction of the cost if she had lived in PCV.

Row said living on campus as a freshman helps people branch out, but she remains against the two-year requirement.

“Make the exemption easier, or have it be more of a recommendation instead of a requirement,” Row said. “But just don’t make it a requirement, because some students can’t afford it.” 

For Ellie Angold, repeating her experience of living on-campus again wasn’t an option. Due to multiple reasons, especially with the housing issue, Angold transferred out of Cal Poly this fall.

“For a really renowned place — really?” Angold said. “You guys can do better.”

Sydney Sherman contributed reporting to this article.