As of 2015, USC had the capacity to house only 34% of its 18,810 undergraduate students through on-campus dorms. With the construction of USC Village in 2017, new undergraduate apartments and the McCarthy Honors Residential College allowed for an additional 2,500 beds. However, as of the 2019-20 school year, the undergraduate student body has grown to 20,500. This means that although the University’s ability to house undergraduate students did increase by a little under 10%, it still does not reach even half of the total number of undergraduate students.
On Forbes 100 Top Colleges List from 2015, USC ranked in the top 10 schools with the lowest dorm capacity. In comparison, Boston University, a private school with a similar undergraduate population of 17,286, had the capacity to house 80% of its undergraduate students in dorms in 2015, guaranteeing on-campus housing for all four years of undergraduate study. In fact, almost half of all Top 100 colleges on the list could house 90% or more of their undergraduate students.
Despite USC’s $5.5 billion endowment, which is over double the amount of Boston University’s, the University guarantees undergraduate students half the years of undergraduate housing. USC put $700 million into funding USC Village, which includes not only housing but also stores and restaurants, so it is not unrealistic for the University to undertake a similar project to build more living spaces for upperclassmen.
Guaranteeing four years of on-campus housing does not mean USC will have to build enough buildings to house every undergraduate student enrolled. Inevitably, some local students will choose to commute from home and others will choose to live in surrounding off-campus housing. The Forbes article claims that 50% of undergraduate students choose to live off-campus at the University of Chicago, so the school is able to guarantee four years of housing despite having a 53% capacity. In this way, USC may be able to get away with having a relatively low dorm capacity, depending on student interest.
There are several benefits to guaranteed housing for all four years of undergraduate study. Not only does living on campus make it more convenient to get to and from classes, but it also makes it more convenient to use USC facilities such as its libraries, labs, gyms and the Engemann Student Health Center, ensuring that students have easy access to the resources they need. And because students spend less time traveling, this allows them to maximize their time spent studying or working out, promoting better learning as well as physical and mental health.
It is also easier to find a community within the school when constantly surrounded by peers, which is characteristic of on-campus housing. Residential college life is important for a student’s freshman year when everyone is especially determined to make new friends but having opportunities to interact with new people and deepen existing friendships is always valuable, even into the later years of college. Living on campus makes it easier to take advantage of the communal aspects of on-campus housing; while having to share a bathroom with everyone on the floor may not be amazing, living in a dorm means that, more often than not, there will be other students to hang out or study in lounges with.
This being said, there are issues to consider when discussing the addition of new buildings to campus. Back in 2017, the USC Village project was criticized for displacing several small businesses that were part of the original University Village, replacing them with the corporate chain stores and eateries that exist now. Adding even more housing units may again jeopardize the stability of surrounding local businesses.
One way to work around this may be to build up instead of out. While a freshman dorm Fluor Tower Residential College rises 11 stories, many of the other housing units are anywhere from three to eight floors. Adding another building with 11 or more stories may be a more effective way to add beds for undergraduate students while still keeping in mind the surrounding community. It would be more effective than adding several short buildings like in USC Village.
Ultimately, USC should consider adding more buildings so that it can guarantee housing for all four years of students’ undergraduate study. On-campus housing facilitates a better learning and social environment and is equally important for upperclassmen.