Economy pushes more college students to live at home


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Lauren Katalinich saved a lot of money by living at home during her freshman year at the University of Iowa.

So much money, she paid living expenses while she was an exchange student at the University of Lancaster, England, during her junior year.

But while the savings were important, sacrificing a freshman year in the dorms was difficult, said Katalinich, now a senior majoring in international studies and French.

“I pretty much blocked out most of my freshman year,” she said. “It was a little bit shameful to think, ‘Oh, you’re still living with your parents.’ I wasn’t able to make a group of friends like I did in high school.”

Kelsey Carder, a UI sophomore studying health promotions, pays her tuition with loans. So living at home in north Coralville — a 20- to 30-minute commute from campus — reduced her debt. Carder said she likes the savings and talking with her parents about her day, but she admitted getting to know people on campus was sometimes difficult.

At first, telling friends she lived with her parents was embarrassing.

“Then they would say, ‘Good idea, save some money,’ or, ‘Wow, I wish I could have done that,’ ” she said.

Students living at home represent a trend in American college life. In 2008, they made up 31.5 percent of all U.S. undergraduates, according to U.S. Department of Education reports.

A July 2009 survey by the National Retail Foundation found the number of college students planning to or considering living at home increased from slightly fewer than 50 percent in 2007 to 59.3 percent during the 2009-10 school year.

And the reason was simple: the poor economy.

“I think the cost of a college education has spun out of control,” said Michael D’Alessandro, a University of Iowa professor of radiology. He lived at home in a Detroit suburb while attending Wayne State University for both undergraduate and medical school in the 1980s.

“Whatever happens with the economy, I think people will be looking for more and more value,” he said. “And doing the traditional college thing is going to be a luxury that many people are not going to want to afford.”

Although students such as Katalinich miss the rite of passage of living away from home in college, saving money trumps that luxury.

Savings can average $9,000 a year in room and board costs at public or private four-year colleges, according to the College Board. With average debt for a 2009 college graduate hovering at $24,000, according to the nonprofit research group Project on Student Debt, living at home can lead to significant savings.

Those savings are even more significant at a time of rising unemployment among college graduates under 25. As of April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put it at 8 percent, more than twice the rate three years ago.

Despite the economic benefits fueling the trend, dorm life remains synonymous with the typical college experience. College is when independence plays a major role in the transition to adulthood, and for most students, dorms and resident life are the backbone of that independence. Katalinich said she had an “in” with UI dorm life at the beginning of her freshman year through her then-boyfriend, whom she had dated in high school — but then they broke up.

“After that, I didn’t really reach out to people, because for some reason I felt like I couldn’t, because I didn’t live in the dorms,” she said.

College friendships are vital to establishing independence, said Alicia Nordstrom, a professor of psychology at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania, and Lisa Swenson, an associate professor of psychology at Penn State University-Hazleton. Nordstrom and Swenson cowrote a 2009 study that found that friendships made in college were more beneficial to students’ social transition and academic performance than friendships carried over from high school.

And for some students, not being part of resident life can lead to serious problems with social development, academic performance, and parental relationships, the study found.

While women’s relationships with their parents generally remained stable whether living at home or in a dorm, living with their parents was more likely to cause a decline in male students’ relationships with their parents, said Marnie Heister, a professor of psychology at Misericordia University.

Katalinich said moving to an apartment with a high-school friend during her sophomore year gave her more confidence in making friends, but studying abroad gave her the chance to feel true independence, and she gained the ability to form a new social life while studying abroad.  

“It wasn’t until I studied abroad during my junior year that I finally felt that I had ‘gone away to college,’ ” she said, making air quotations with both hands. “In England, I got that dorm-like experience that I always wanted.”

Andrew Leventry, who lived at home from 2005 to 2007 during his freshman and sophomore years at the UI, moved into an apartment during his junior year and roomed with friends from high school until leaving to study law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in August 2010. Now living outside of Iowa City for the first time, he said crafting a social life different from the one carried over from high school has been difficult.

“I feel anxious, because I’m meeting people and making friendships, and I’m not really sure what they’re looking for,” Leventry said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever made new friends with anyone in a long time. And it’s a little bit scary.

“If I could do it all over again, I would take out loans to pay for the dorms.”

A “super close” relationship with their parents led Carder, the UI sophomore health-promotions major from Coralville, and older sister Brittany Carder to remain at home through college. Brittany Carder graduated in May 2010 with a degree in marketing, and, like her sister, she borrowed for college.  

“Living in the dorms would have been nice, but what if I didn’t like my roommate?” she said. She said she is grateful for leaving college with much less debt. And, like her sister, she said she was thankful to come home to “people who really care about you.”

“Britt and Kels are my life,” mother Connie Carder said. “They could stay here forever, and I’d let them.”

Connie Carder said she even proofreads her daughters’ papers.

D’Alessandro said if given the choice, he would do it all over again.

“I never felt the need to leave,” he said. “Why would I want to? I had a loving family. I had three square meals a day. I had someone to do my laundry. It let me focus on what I wanted to do, which was study a lot.”

Thanks to scholarships and a part-time job, D’Alessandro finished medical school with no debt. But he acknowledges that college is “a daunting financial thing,” and choosing the most economical option for college will make more sense for families in the near future.

Katalinich said living at home gave her the desire to have a job in which she is always working with people. After she graduates in May, she plans to pursue a career in human-rights advocacy.

“You can make it living at home,” she said. “It’s not going to be the end of the world. But I sort of thought that at the time.”

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.