Dorm housing rates set to increase beginning this fall

The proposal constitutes an annual 4.5% weighted average increase in housing rates every year for five years with staggered implementation throughout the Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses. ORACLE PHOTO

The Board of Trustees’ (BOT) finance committee approved a five-year plan presented by USF Housing Residential and Education on Feb. 14 to increase housing rates annually by a 4.5% weighted average beginning this fall at the Tampa campus.

Ana Hernandez, assistant vice president of Housing & Residential Education said the driving reasons behind the increase is the fact that USF has not raised its housing rates since 2019 in comparison to the rising costs and market demands, as well as general inflation in utilities, construction, labor and materials. 

The new funds will go toward scheduled maintenance and capital improvement projects by the university, according to the BOT’s finance committee agenda

Still pending the final BOT approval on March 7, the new proposed housing rates range from $3,070 to $6,158 per semester. Current prices start at $2,995 and go as high as $5,950 per semester.

Different rooms will be subject to a different degree of increase depending on demand among other factors, according to Hernandez. For example, traditional residence halls, which are currently some of the least expensive spaces, will increase an approximate 2.5%, Hernandez said. 

Instead of putting more financial burdens on students who are already dealing with financial stressors, such as not receiving financial aid and increased cost of living, freshman accounting major Zoe Wallace said housing should be funded through other means like donations and state funding.

“Some students can’t get financial aid or maybe something went wrong and [financial aid] didn’t work out. They would have to pay out of pocket like $900-$1,000. And that’s just not realistic,” Wallace said. 

Student housing revenue, not additional funding from tuition or the state, is solely responsible for financing housing operations, according to Hernandez.

“The cost of everything is going up, whether it be materials, whether it be labor, whether it be utilities, etc. And so, unfortunately, we’re not able to protect students from that reality,” Hernandez said. 

“What we do try to ensure is that we have a wide variety of price points that are available for students so that they have the opportunity to have the on-campus experience.” 

The Tampa campus is currently over 99% occupied, according to the BOT’s finance agenda. Hernandez said a similar occupancy rate is expected for the next school year. 

Hernandez said students wanting to be part of a bigger community could explain the rise in occupancies in last semesters. The “Bulls life” is the only time in a student’s life when they have the opportunity to be surrounded with those who are undergoing the same experiences, she said.

“[Students] really are just looking to engage and get the most out of their college experience and living on campus allows them to do that,” Hernandez said. 

Junior integrated public relations and advertising major Emma Sievert said the university’s reasoning for increasing rates are not fair. It would be a lose-lose situation for some people, specifically those who have to pay out of pocket or who do not have a good home life, she said.

“I still would have a hard time justifying [the increase]. With inflation, everything is so overpriced to begin with, how much more can they overprice it without it just being incredibly outrageous,” Sievert said. 

Sievert said this will play a huge factor regarding students’ decisions to stay on campus. Though USF will still face high demand due to international and out-of-state students, Sievert said students who are more local will be affacted as they might be forced to stay home due to financial constraints. 

Hernandez said they will continue to accommodate students by maintaining a variety of price points. Students will be able to choose if they want to live in a more expensive or cheaper space, a more private or shared space, or an older versus newer building, she said. 

The price increase is unjustified when you take into account differences between off-campus and on-campus housing, according to Wallace. Though she said she decided to stay on-campus for the dorming experiences, the size difference between off-campus apartments and dorms is discouraging to her.

“I think already what we’re getting charged is pretty expensive, especially if you stop into someone’s apartment and you realize that their living room is bigger than our room and they pay less than what we pay,” Wallace said.

Another aggravating factor, Wallace said, is how first-year students staying on campus are required to purchase a meal plan, regardless of whether they will make use of it. Meal plan costs range from $620 to $2,275. However, plans available to freshmen on-campus students start at $1,900, according to the USF dining website

Though rates have not been increased since 2019, sophomore physics major Ameer Shah said current prices are still competitive to off-campus housing. 

“It’s not that they haven’t increased the prices. It’s just that they were already high enough that they can justify not increasing it for the past three years,” Shah said. 

Shah said the 4.5% increase will be detrimental to international students. Unlike other students, Shah said internationals are limited to only working 20 hours per week in on-campus jobs which pay $10-$11, and thus the effects will be felt on a higher scale. 

“These are children as to how I would describe them, the 17-year-olds [and] 18-year-olds coming in, and not knowing America – having a culture shock in the first place,” Shah said. “Not even having a stable roof over your head is even a worse concern in that sense. So, I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.”

Hernandez said the revenue of the increase will go toward infrastructure and “front-facing improvements,” such as maintaining air conditioning systems and roofs, redesigning lounges or purchasing new furniture for dorms.

Revenue will also go toward the Argos Redevelopment Plan, which is currently in its preliminary phase, according to Hernandez. The project will consist of an exploration for the future of housing on the Tampa campus, specifically whether older buildings will be renovated or replaced and if more dorms will be constructed. 

Housing will be launching a survey to understand what students want from their on-campus experience, which will help inform the trajectory of the next housing project, according to Hernandez.

“We’re still in the preliminary phases of determining what the priorities are, what the timing will look like, what the funding will look like for that. But if we have the ability to expand housing on campus because we are experiencing extremely high demand,” Hernandez said.

Students will be negatively affected by the increase, according to Sievert, and will be left more vulnerable to financial constraints – leading them to possibly miss out on a major part of the college experience.

“It is really frustrating knowing that I have to sacrifice some alone time at home or something to go work and make those hours to get the money to pay to live in a place [which] doesn’t feel like home,” Sievert said. “It’s just a shelter for you to be in so you can go to school and pay more money for classes. It feels like they’re very money hungry.”