Why Berklee’s Housing Debacle Really Isn’t That Surprising At All

by Quincy Cotton

Every year, bright-eyed, optimistic, bubbly high school graduates are accepted to Berklee College of Music. With their lofty aspirations and dreams, they step foot into the Back Bay of Boston, Massachusetts to pursue their musical careers. One of the first things they realize is the cost of living in Massachusetts. The only places more expensive are New York and some cities in Northern California. So, getting an apartment for first-year students is generally out of the question. Your options then become one of Berklee’s several dorm halls. They’re located at 260 and 270 Commonwealth Ave, 150 and 160 Massachusetts Ave, and 98 Hemenway.

As a former 5-week student and returning 5th semester student at Berklee, I’ve lived at 260, 270 and 160, and I’m currently, hopefully, still there this upcoming fall semester. The first time I stepped foot into 160 Mass Ave, it seemed like more of a flashy hotel suite than a college dorm hall. The brand-new building in the center of a metropolitan city is a culture shock to kids coming from small-town cities and larger ones alike. The spotless floors and windows give it almost a corporate feeling, and having 16 floors further adds to the hotel vibe. The main dining services are also in 160, so you don’t have to brace Boston’s weather during the winter months. The visual appeal and presentation matches what has come to be the most expensive on-campus housing for a university in the United States. But the cost of living on campus at Berklee surprisingly is not the most recent or pressing issue with housing. More recently, it has been the implementation of a lottery system to room selection.

Prior to the lottery system, room selection priority would go to upperclassmen that still live on-campus at the college. It’s a tried and true formula that most colleges utilize. Upperclassmen would choose their rooms first, then the remaining options would be given to the younger and incoming students. Now, both new and returning students’ living situations have been put in jeopardy. The rooms are selected at random, no matter your classification. To make matters worse, the on-campus students aren’t informed of the status of their living arrangement until right before the semester starts. This doesn’t give them enough time to find an alternate living situation in the case their name isn’t drawn. I wondered what led to the decision to implement this policy, so I did some research, and sat in on several meetings that students had with Berklee’s housing department. This new policy coincided with the implementation of the sleep pods in 150, as well as the slew of new aesthetic developments around the college such as the signs. All of these new flashy aesthetic additions to the college seems geared towards incoming students, and the housing change does as well. Why cater to incoming students rather than upperclassmen? It’s good business.

Berklee has a graduation rate of only 49.2 %, which is abysmal by most college standards. The college is a business, and unlike many colleges, Berklee can’t rely on athletics or other extracurricular activities for revenue. Other than a stream of donors, Berklee is dependent on the students, and many students leave after their first year. Statistics show that if you fail a class in your first year of Berklee, you have just a 10% chance of being a part of the 49.2% who walks across that graduation stage. All of these new additions and policies are an attempt by the college to lock up money that might not be there later. Fiscal gain seems to be the driving factor behind it all, and with Berklee, they’re getting it while it’s good.