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Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

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The Knox Student

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Some students frustrated with Fifth-Year for Free housing stipulations

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Megan Shafar
The Hamblin dorms

It’s housing selection season. Many returning students are scrambling to find a group to live with next year and deciding which buildings they prefer. For some, the process comes with figuring out back-up plans to their back-up plans as their preferred spaces quickly fill up—or, as some incoming fifth-year students were surprised to learn, they were not approved to live off-campus next year.

Current senior Marli Messner said that students in the Fifth Year for Free program have traditionally had a much easier time getting approved for off-campus housing, even though the policy has always been the same.

Knox’s Fifth Year for Free Guarantee says that students who were fully enrolled during the 2020-21 school year are eligible for a full tuition scholarship for their fifth year. Students in the program are required to live and eat on campus, unless they would normally be approved for off-campus housing.

Assistant Dean for Campus Life Jake McLean said that the typical reasons non-commuting students are approved to live off campus include being at least 23 years old before the start of fall term, being married, having dependent children, or having medical needs that on-campus housing cannot accommodate. He added that students can live off campus if they have finished four years at Knox if they are not eligible for the Fifth Year for Free program.

However, Messner knew of many people getting approved to live off campus in Fifth Year for Free in previous years.

“Just in this last year of fifth yearing, it’s just kind of strange to have that precedent and then for that not to happen,” Messner said. “Especially as students who have had the longest to expect having that fifth-year and have the most examples of students getting off-campus for their fifth-year, it seemed the most reasonable for us to be able to plan for that.”

Messner and her partner, senior Brandon Roberts, want to live off campus for financial and lifestyle reasons. After their original applications were denied, they decided to get married sooner than planned so that they can live off campus.

“We’ve talked about getting married at some point; we just weren’t planning on doing it this soon, so it’s not like all of a sudden, we’re like, oh well, I guess we get married,” Messner said. “We’ve been together for five years now. We’re not broken up over this decision to get married, but yeah, it’s not what we would have done otherwise.”

Senior Luna Perkins is also adjusting her plans while deciding where to live next year. She is not in the Fifth Year for Free program and was therefore approved for off-campus housing, but she is struggling to find someone to live with. She would prefer to live off-campus.

“I’m not going to be on the meal plan, so there’s not really any point in [living on campus], and I’d rather be by myself and have my own space than try to find someone new to live with,” Perkins said. “Also, it would be good for me to learn how it is to live off-campus, like it’s good world experience, since I don’t know what it’s like to pay rent and stuff.”

Finding a place within her budget has been a challenge, though, so she is trying to find a roommate. Even if she finds someone, though, she said they would not be allowed to live off-campus with her if they’re in the Fifth Year for Free program. Perkins is considering options on-campus and has been attending some of the match-up events Campus Life organized to help people find suitemates.

“It’s been a pain, and it’s been really stressful,” Perkins said.

Requiring most fifth-year students to live on campus impacts the rest of the student body, as well.

According to McLean, there are 775 beds on campus for returning students: 85 in the fraternity houses and 690 in every other returning student space.

It is normal for there to be empty rooms. McLean said that 152 of the returning student spaces were not filled this past fall, but these are spread out across the different buildings.

Students opting for random room assignments would not be put in a themed, cultural, or fraternity house, so those houses sometimes have vacant beds. Also, many students with single room accommodations end up in double rooms, so many rooms throughout campus are not filled to capacity.

The most popular spaces fill up fast, though.

Priority numbers for general housing selection are determined by graduation year and credits, with tie breakers being how early someone filled out the application.

“Most people who are fifth-years—not all of them, but a lot of them—want that kind of transitional living, and so the apartment spaces are automatically more appealing,” McLean said. “In that way, it’s challenging for people who are rising seniors to get a high enough priority number to get one of the apartment spaces, so there’s just more competition for those top spots people want to live.”

According to Registrar Jerry Miner, 79 students were enrolled in the Fifth Year for Free program for all or part of the 2023-24 school year. 49 of those students are currently enrolled this spring. Registration is still open for next year; so far, 24 students have been approved for the program.

Despite students’ interest in off-campus spaces, McLean said that he sees advantages to living on campus. He also encourages students to meet with him about how the Campus Life Office can meet their housing needs.

“We have our whole lives to pay rent or mortgages, so the opportunity to continue living in on-campus housing does afford some kind of benefit that engaging in a lease or something crazy might otherwise not,” McLean said. “…Now that I own a home, not being able just to put in a work order when I need something addressed is, I’m the one fulfilling those work orders,” McLean said.

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About the Contributor
Megan Shafar
Megan Shafar, Staff Writer
Megan Shafar '26 (she/her) is a staff writer. She is majoring in environmental studies and minoring in public policy and enjoys dancing, reading, and watching shows.

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  • Y

    YApr 27, 2024 at 12:43 am

    trying to get what you need for housing feels like having to jump through hoops. granted ive mostly been happy with my housing experiences and have usually been able to get what i wanted for the most part, but i really had to fight for it. i was questioned about my need for a private bathroom due to a disability and was told “well we just want to make sure youre not just saying this because you have a preference for a private bathroom…”, automatically feeling like my disability and need for the accomodation was invalidated. as non returning senior this year, a major weight has been lifted off my shoulders not having to do housing at knox next year. the process is so extremely stressful and it feels very common that folks aren’t able to have their needs and wants met.

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  • M

    M.Apr 25, 2024 at 10:25 pm

    They really don’t meet housing needs though. I talked to campus life about living in an apartment because of my medical disabilities, which require me to make my own food, and they said they don’t accommodate to anyone off board. They also said the best I could get (because of my priority number) is either Williston, which has a kitchen in the basement, or the townhouses which you have to go outside to get to the kitchen. This has been a very frustrating process for me.

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