The Northfield Option gives approximately 75 seniors the chance to live off-campus, completely dependently from Carleton College. This year the process of applying for the much-coveted opportunity seemed especially frenzied after the news of St. Olaf acquiring Crack and Love Houses. There were also rumors flying about the decrease in the number of Northfield Option spots available.
In fact, there is a rumor flying around that the Northfield Option will be eliminated within the next ten years. In response to this rumor Andrea Robinson, Director of Residential Life, said “The original decrease in Northfield Option is part of the overall Strategic Plan of the college, which I do not know much about. I was asked a similar question last year about this time.”
While Robinson did not explicitly state that the Northfield Option would indeed still be around in ten years, she did say that their current plan is to gradually decrease the number of available spots. She said, “we will continue to drop by about five for next year and each of the following years. The end goal is to get to approximately fifty for Northfield Option.”
Robinson also stressed that while they will be removing off-campus options, they will be looking for new ways to still provide independent living options within the campus housing system.
Financially, the decrease in the Northfield Option seems to makes sense for the college, especially given the current economic crisis. In the 2013-2014 year, room cost $6,279. With 80 students living off-campus, the college lost $502,320. However nowhere in President Poskanzer’s Strategic Plan is a decrease in the Northfield Option mentioned as a method of austerity, though there is asmall section about an increase in townhouses, which could imply a decrease in off-campus options.
On the other hand, the Northfield Option saves interested students $11,982 on room and board, making it very desirable. Additionally, a student’s financial aid does not decrease if they are on the Northfield Option.
Tanner McNamara, a junior hoping take advantage of Northfield Option next year with three other students, says “I’m in a group of four, so we save close to $50,000 and it’s hard to believe we could spend that much to rent a place for nine months and feed ourselves. So I would anticipate saving a decent chunk of money.”
Jamie Johnson ’15 will be living Northfield Option next year and, in addition to financial benefits, said that the Northfield Option will help her feel secure in her decision to graduate early. She said, “I know I’ll have someplace to stay spring term… this makes it much less complicated.”
Both McNamara and Johnson stressed the importance of getting the chance to live independently and taking on “adult responsibilities” like paying rent and utilities and cooking for oneself.
While the opportunity to live independently and gain real world experience is nice, it is by no means a necessity. Most certainly Carls who do not get to live off campus fare just as well after Carleton as Carls who do live off-campus.
It is fairly evident that Carleton is doing it’s best to both provide for students and keep its budget afloat, however phasing out the Northfield Option does not just affect students. The landlords that own the homes and apartments are also major stakeholders.
Kurt Larson, the landlord of three apartments above Larson’s Printing building says, “If and when Carleton were to phase out off campus housing it could greatly impact the local economy. We rent exclusively to college students and would be forced to try and find new renters. This would be a challenge.”
Clark Ohnesorge, owner of TreeHouse and Threehouse, the latter which he describes as “fabulously interconnected Triplex”, says, “I’ve bought all my houses with the intention of fixing them up, renting them for a few years to regain my capitol, and then returning them to the family market. I have put a lot of money into them and if Carleton phases out Northfield Option it may accelerate my plans and produce some financial belt-tightening.”
Each landlord I spoke to had overwhelmingly positive things to say about their experience renting to Carls. Ohnesorge is confident that he would be able to find other tenants but, he says, “the downside is that they won’t be Carls. I would feel that some of the zest of the East Side would be gone if Northfield Option goes away.”
It is unclear to what degree Carleton factors in the impact of its lessening Northfield Option has on Northfield, but it is clear that it will be felt around town.