The Housing Games

I came to UAH all the way from Southern California on the promise of a full ride scholarship through the Platinum Award of Academic Distinction, including tuition and on-campus housing for four years. But now, a rising junior, I’m apparently number 157 on the waitlist for a housing placement on campus, and I feel a bit deceived.

“This 4-year award is valued at full tuition (up to 18 credit hours per semester), and also includes a course fee stipend (up to $1,000), an on-campus housing allowance, and a meal plan allowance. Renewal is based on satisfactory academic progress and full-time status,” said the UAH website description of the Platinum Award. I fulfill both of the criteria for renewal, but despite the promise of an “on-campus housing allowance”, when I signed up for the Returning Student Housing Process, the only options available to me and other Platinum Award students were off-campus apartments. In an interview, Assistant Director of Housing Elizabeth Russell-Johnson confirmed that the off-campus apartments are the only housing options available to all rising upperclassmen except for those with the Charger Excellence Award.

This without a hint of apology or explanation. I was rather shocked. Was UAH simply going to sweep its promise of on-campus housing under the rug? Or did “on-campus housing allowance” not actually mean what it implies? Off-campus housing certainly does not seem like a fulfillment of that promise. When I asked Elizabeth Russell-Johnson about the phrasing, she simply said, “you’d want to speak with Financial Aid.”

Two calls and an in-person visit to the Financial Aid Office later, it appears that UAH simply doesn’t have enough space to house their Platinum upperclassmen due to the ever-increasing number of new freshmen and sophomores. The contact from Financial Aid was apologetic, and even offered to contact Housing on my behalf to see if I could be put higher on the waitlist. But my position on the waitlist being higher or lower doesn’t change the fact that UAH will not fulfill its promise of on-campus housing, to me or to the other Platinum awardees.

After undergoing the Returning Student Housing Process, I am currently signed up for an apartment at Highland Pointe, approximately 6-7 miles from campus. I don’t have a driver’s license or own a car, and buying one is not currently feasible for me. Even if I could buy a car, bringing it over 2000 miles back and forth from California or figuring out where to leave it over the summer and winter holidays would be logistically taxing. Public transportation does not seem to be a viable option either.

My choices, then, seem to be either relying on the kindness of friends who do have cars and submitting myself to the mercy of their schedule, biking for 40 minutes to campus every day, or taking over 2 hours to walk. As an engineering major, an on-campus tutor at the Student Success Center, and the president of 2 different on-campus organizations, a daily commute even half as far would still be a hindrance to my involvement on campus.

These same transportation problems will affect many out-of-state students without cars, but are even worse for international students. Sakurako Kuba, a UAH senior in aerospace engineering, hails all the way from Japan. She lived on campus for the first two years of her time at UAH, but after that she had no choice but to get a drivers’ license and insurance and buy a car in order to have transportation to campus from her off-campus apartment. Though this was financially feasible for Kuba, not every international student should have to face getting a driver’s license and buying a car in America, especially those who are not even sure if they will remain in the United States after graduation.

UAH prides itself on attracting a diverse community of bright students from all 50 states and even overseas. In fact, the first-listed priority on UAH’s Priority Tactical Plan is to “recruit and retain an outstanding and diverse student body…”  But when one considers how few provisions are made for these students’ housing situations once they become upperclassmen, it’s not clear how important these “outstanding and diverse” students really are to the university. Perhaps before “[growing] university to 10,000 headcount” UAH should take care of the needs of the students who are already here, especially when they’ve come with the promise of on-campus housing.

Though it’s clear UAH does not have the capacity to house everyone on campus, it should at least consider providing transportation options for those who need it. One possibility would be a UAH shuttle that runs between off-campus apartments and campus. This would not only provide a safer, more reliable way for students to commute to campus, it would also reduce the amount of congestion in UAH parking lots, since students taking the shuttle would not need to park their cars on campus.

Alas, no such option currently exists. Hopefully that will change moving forward, but as for me, I’m done playing “The Housing Games”. I’m renting an apartment outside of the UAH system that’s within short walking distance to campus. It won’t be easy on my wallet, but it currently seems like the best choice for my well-being.

This is an issue I and other out-of-state and international students should not have to face. UAH, for the sake of your reputation if not for the sake of your diverse community, give Platinum students the on-campus housing you promised. And maybe next time, don’t promise more than you can deliver.

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