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Board of Trustees vote to increase room and board rates

Western struggles to balance student affordability and necessary price increases

A photo of the Ridgeway Sigma sign. Sigma is one of 17 residence halls available to Western students. // Photo by Ava Glaspell

The Western Washington University Board of Trustees decided during the April 14 meeting by unanimous vote to increase base residence hall room and board rates by 4.73%. 

This increase, coupled with an increase in dining rates, results in an additional $595 for the academic year for a base-tier triple room with a 125-swipe meal plan. 

In addition to the increase in base-tier room rates, Birnam Wood apartment rentals will experience a 6% rate increase, which amounts to an extra $30 per month without a meal plan. 

“The rate increase of 4.73% responsibly responds to inflationary pressures, mandatory wage increases and maintains the core functions of Western’s quality residential program,” said Leonard Jones, Western’s executive director of University Residence, in an email. “It also enables the university to continue a comprehensive plan for facility renewals and renovations.”

These increases help cover costs like major maintenance and debt coverage, and ensure necessary reserve fund balances, Jones said.   

University Residences and Dining Services takes student feedback to inform decisions about improvements. In the 2023-24 academic year, the university plans to focus on late-night dining, improved accessibility and health concerns, according to the rate-increase proposal.

“University Residences understands there is always an impact to students when rates increase,”  Jones said. 

These increases come at a time when Western students are facing historically high inflation and a difficult Bellingham housing market, but Jones said the university always tries to prioritize student affordability. 

Despite these issues, Western only guarantees housing to first-year students and holds an additional 1,200 beds for those who may choose to return to on-campus living. 

Out of a current undergraduate population of 14,782 students, 3,302 of these students are freshmen. This leaves more than 11,000 students without guaranteed housing. 

According to the City of Bellingham, the median home value has increased by almost 80% since 2000. The median family income has increased by only 20%. This imbalance coupled with a high housing demand and production lag makes for a problematic housing market. 

“Bellingham is the worst housing market I’ve ever seen, even after moving all across the country in the past 20 years,” said Rebecca Quirke, the founder of Tenants Revolt, an organization helping tenants take legal action against unreasonable landlords. 

In an effort to avoid this difficult housing market for another year, freshman Sam Peterson decided to stay on campus for his second year at Western – even in light of the housing increases. 

“I think it is less expensive to live off campus already, so I already knew on campus was the more expensive choice. But like I said, for me, it was the easier choice,” he said. 

For Peterson, an easy commute and the convenience of the dining hall were both important factors when considering housing. 

Western uses a lottery system to determine whether returning students can live on campus or not. When students get off the waitlist, they aren’t guaranteed that they get their first choice of housing, or even that they get to live with their roommate. Peterson got housing in the lottery, but his roommate did not. 

“He’ll probably get in and get off the waitlist, but the thing is, at what time?” Peterson asked. “Does that mean we’ll get to live in the building we want to get in? Does that mean we’ll get in at all?” 

Peterson said that according to Western, most students on the waitlist usually get housing. 

“The waitlist usually clears up because there are people that applied for housing and got it but aren’t going to live on campus,” he said.

Peterson understands there are limiting factors to guaranteeing housing for all students. 

“It would be nice if they could guarantee housing, but they don’t,” he said. “I think they should, but obviously it's a space issue.” 

Quirke recognizes that it’s not just up to the efforts of the university to address these housing issues for students. 

“I think there is joint responsibility. I think that Western is responsible, I think the city of Bellingham is responsible,” she said. 

Ava Glaspell

Ava Glaspell (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a first year journalism/news ed major. Outside of reporting, Ava enjoys climbing, eating ice cream, and jumping into the ocean. You can reach her at

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