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August 13, 2014

Boston College is building a new dorm in hopes of getting 100 percent of students living on campus (Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH).

Boston is bracing for the annual influx of college students returning for the fall semester. But when the moving vans roll into town, many of them will pull up outside apartment buildings rather than dorms. Mayor Marty Walsh says he'd like to see Boston’s entire student population living on-campus, and while that could be a reality for one area college, others have a long way to go.

When Boston College woos prospective students the school's residential experience is a major selling point. Jack Dunn is a Boston College alumnus and the university spokesman. He says, as a group, Boston College students want to live on campus -- not off.

"Part of the reason is the exorbitant rents that are charged by absentee landlords who are also unresponsive to their needs," Dunn said. "Students often face break-in issues when they go home at winter and spring break."

And there are more positive reasons. Lou Wilson and Emyr Remy lived on campus all four years before graduating this spring.

"I guess the sense of community I felt, I wanted to keep living with this same group of people, and Boston college had given me four years of housing and accommodations only got better as I went through the years," said Wilson.

"The community of being in college is what you're really here for, in addition to classes, and when you're off campus by yourself you really don't get that experience," said Remy.

Right now, 85 percent of Boston College undergraduates live on campus. The school wants that figure to reach 100 percent, and its building accordingly. The school is currently building a new dorm, slated to house 500 students.

According to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston College has the right idea.

"I would love to see 100 percent of students on campuses across the city of Boston," Walsh said. "The more students we can put on campus the more housing frees up in our neighborhoods."

But making that vision a reality won't be easy. At Suffolk University, just 23 percent of full-time undergraduates live on campus. At Northeastern University that figure is 52 percent. Those schools are in the middle of the city without much room for new construction.

And even if they found a way to build more housing, their students might not be interested. Jen Zemke is a junior at Emerson College.

"Things were crumbling and furniture's not that great either. The beds are super uncomfortable," said Zemke.

Emerson requires their students to spend their first two years living on campus. Zemke says that means paying too much for too little.

"Emerson housing is upwards of $7,000 a semester, which is $2,000 a month. And I could be living in much nicer pleas for %2,000 a month," Zemke said. "It's ridiculous."

Zemke is moving to Dorchester. She'll save about $1,6000 a month. Zemke says she won't miss communal living at all, and a 20 minute ride on the T isn't too far. It's hard to imagine a student at Boston College thinking that way. But then, a rich on campus life is one of Boston College's big selling points.

This story was the second part of a FOCUS report for Greater Boston. The first part of the series looks at what the city is doing to crack down on off campus housing conditions.

Boston, Boston College, increasing access and success, dorm

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