The Ho-Hum Sticker Shock of College Housing

Hand towerThe San Jose Mercury News wrote that the cost of campus housing exceeded the cost of tuition for San Francisco Bay Area colleges. A quick back of the envelope calculation for my college years as a young student (early 1990’s) and an adult student (early 2000’s) shows that housing was always more expensive. Other than the sticker shock that parents are going through at this time of year, I’m not sure why this is news in Silicon Valley. Being a starving student was never an easy task.

After dropping out of high school three months into the ninth grade and three days into the tenth grade, I stayed home during my high school years and taught myself from books, newspapers, magazines and public television. I worked with my father in construction for several years after I turned 18-years-old, decided that I didn’t want to work in construction for the rest of my life, and checked out the local adult high school program. They turned me away after I blew out their evaluation exam, saying that it would take me five years to complete my high school diploma, and sent me over to San Jose City College to earn a general education associate degree in four years.

My parents never supported me going to college and expected me to fail like I did with high school. For the first year, I lived at home with them for free. But each day I looked for cans and bottles in the campus garbage cans to earn the $250 USD I needed for classes and books each semester. My father and I took my mountain of recyclables in his truck to the recycling center each month. After I got a minimum wage job at the campus bookstore, I worked 30 hours a week for the next three years. My parents conceded that I wasn’t a total failure when I graduated from community college.

After I joined the campus ministry to become a Christian in 1992, I moved into a five-bedroom Victorian that was a former frat house in Downtown San Jose with 12 guys. The monthly rent was $200 USD each. That lasted three months before four of us got our own two-bedroom apartment that still cost $200 USD each. Three months of rent was what it cost to go to community college for a year.

Not long after we moved out of the Victorian, the city of San Jose restricted the number of garbage cans for pick up to three. A household of 13 guys put out seven trash cans each week. Like basic cable TV, no one wanted to pay for a dumpster. The last guy to move out called the landlord in the Midwest to inform him that all the original tenants on the lease moved out a decade earlier.

When I went back to college to learn computer programming as an adult student, I worked 60 hours a week as a video game tester, paid $1,000 USD per month for a studio apartment and Uncle Sam paid for my second associate degree with a $3,000 USD tax credit to retrain for a new career. I even made the dean’s list for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in major courses. The cost of housing has exceeded the cost of tuition.