An update from Jamie, a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps and a second-year student majoring in accounting in the Cox School of Business. 

As an Accounting major, it’s accurate to say that I am a budgeter. Classifying transactions and deciding what to do with cash are what I am planning to do for the majority of the rest of my life. (Eeeek, that’s a long time.) I’m sure that to many people it’s weird and uncommon and nerdy, but financial accountability and discovering how purchasing and selling affect people’s lives truly interest me. But accounting is hardly my only passion.

As can be seen through my involvement and previous blog posts, there’s also Residential Commons. I believe wholeheartedly in the RC model, and trust that it is going to change the SMU campus in a positive way. (I even traveled “across the pond” to do research about it!) The team I belong to, the Residential Commons Leadership Corps, along with SMU’s RLSH, have been working diligently to make RC a success, and I honestly cannot wait for that 2014 move-in date.

But combining my two passions? I never really thought about it before.

The Question:

Until, on a cold Tuesday night, that’s exactly what Katelyn Hall asked me to do when she interviewed me for her Journalism class about the costs of living at SMU for a second year. She wanted to know if living in the Residential Commons, on campus, was truly worth it.

So I went to my desk. Pulled out a notebook, calculator and pen. Sat down and got to work. (I wish there was a way to say that without sounding nerdy, but there’s not.)

Homework Assignment #1: Eating at Restaurants

A lot of my friends live in the sorority houses and have a meal plan at their unique house, but it doesn’t include late-night snacking or any weekend meals. Compared to last year when we all lived in the residence halls, it seems like they go out to dinner at least three times more! So, I figured there must be a formula for how many times kids eat at restaurants, a difference equation for the activity between freshman and sophomore year, and even on to senior year, or maybe some way to track restaurant traffic.

But there wasn’t. There was simply no way to calculate exactly how often people eat out when they live off campus vs. on. I was stumped. (This is the point in your homework when you decide to “skip this one and come back to it.”) Moving on …

Homework Assignment #2: Meal Plan vs. Groceries

This is the ultimate duel. (And I thought this problem would be way easier than the first.) Unfortunately, after some research and some inquiry, I realized that the variables in this equation were far too complex to account for. Some kids living off campus are barely getting by on Ramen and peanut butter in order to save money, while others are only buying the freshest organic salmon and kale from Central Market. The answers I got to the question “How much money per month do you spend on groceries?” ranged from $100-$900. The difference between answers could be as much as $750, and the standard deviation was $274! Multiplied by however many months you stay here … it still brings up hugely scattered results.

Finally, I had come up with some answers to this one, but not any I am completely satisfied with, or that definitively declare a true winner. So …

Homework Assignment #3: Apartment vs. Residence Hall

This is another good debate. I live in Shuttles, so I figured I would use it as the control in comparison to off-campus options. For my double, it costs me $9,350 for the whole year according to the RLSH 2013-14 rates. Meaning that monthly, it costs me approximately $950, assuming I stay here for close to 10 months of the year.

To live in a double at the BLVD apartments costs $1,410-$2,165 a month, split between two people, that’s $705-$1,082 each month.

To live in a double at the Standard (on University Blvd.) the monthly rate is $2,202; split between two roommates: $1,101 per month.

To live in Hillcrest Manor, a University-owned apartment building is much more affordable. Living there, each roommate pays about $500 monthly.

To live at the Vista, in Victory Park, each partner in a double room pays more than $1,200 a month.

Still, after all these calculations, I am not left with an overwhelming answer. Some apartments cost more, and some cost less. And much like the grocery equation, I can’t really accommodate for all of the variables and come up with an accurate solution. It depends…

The Solution:

Frustrated (and still feeling like a nerd for doing math that wasn’t even a homework assignment), I went back to what Katelyn had originally asked: “Is living on campus for a second year worth it?” And I came to the conclusion that no accountant can truly answer this question.

Worth it.

How could I ever begin to dissect the worth of an experience? Sure, assets have worth, but do relationships? Does learning? Do memories? It is impossible to calculate the true worth of all of these things, and yet, they all have value.

When it comes down to it, the numbers fade away when we begin to evaluate all of the amazing things the new Residential Commons and second-year on-campus living requirements are going to bring to SMU.

Every university that continually ranks in the top 50 has at least a two-year living obligation, and for good reason. Studies show that living on campus increases GPAs, decreases behavioral problems, and fosters a stronger sense of belonging and community.

The Residential Commons is going to give students the opportunity to meet classmates from other backgrounds, majors, races, religions, etc. and, in turn, grow and learn from each other. This new approach to residential life is going to foster new friendships, create new ways of learning, and truly make SMU a better place. And while I, the Accounting major, can’t show you the numbers to prove it, I unequivocally believe that Residential Commons is going to be, oh so, worth it.