Widgets Magazine


No Free Lunch: The Price of Beer and Granola

The University recently changed the policy on co-ops, making it so that those who preselect into a co-op only use their tier-three draw status. This does not at all reflect the quality of housing that those people enjoy, nor does it accurately reflect the demand for these spots that is present in the community.

Despite some differences, co-op pre-assignees share a lot with those living in Greek housing. They are a group of people, living together, in houses in locations ranging from the very bottom of the Row to out in the boonies. They eat together, have kitchens, cook, choose their own rooming situations and all in all have much more control over their own living than students with other University housing plans. They each choose their future members, and co-op pre-assignment looks remarkably like guys’ rush, with nights devoted to going around to the various houses and manual labor tasks given to prospective members who want to prove their dedication.

And yet Housing treats these two alternate living organizations very differently. If you join a fraternity and live in the house your sophomore year, you give up your tier one or, depending on the availability of the house your senior year, potentially your tier-two housing. On the other hand, if you pre-assign into a co-op, only your tier three is used, leaving you with better tiers for future years.

This would make sense if you were choosing to live in a place that was very low demand. The Draw is designed to function like a market, with different housing situations going earlier or later in the Draw based on their desirability. But pre-assigning into a co-op seems to circumvent this. There is incredibly high demand, and many people who wish they could live in these houses are turned away.

Take Kairos as an example — near the bottom of the Upper Row, great rooms, clean house. Nearly 60 people tried to pre-assign in for 13 spots. Other co-ops had similarly competitive processes and were very difficult to get into.

So it appears that there is an asymmetry in the market, as is often the case when the government or University tries to subsidize the system. For the majority of students in regular housing, you “pay” for what you get with your draw number. Co-ops and Greek houses exist outside of this market because their current members choose future members, and thus, the University artificially sets the “price” that you pay to live in them.

The most equitable way to do this would be to price each housing option as it would end up being priced were it in the Draw. Assess supply and demand relative to other housing options, price accordingly. The Greek houses are in relatively high demand, and are priced as such, as tier one or two housing. Co-ops are also in high demand, but are priced comparatively low. Some would obviously not enjoy this type of housing or the ethos that comes with it, but the fact is that there is more than enough demand to fill them with enthusiastic members. And if this is not the case, why aren’t these houses converted to the ever-popular self-ops?

There are a couple ways of dealing with this. The most obvious is that the University should raise the cost of pre-assigning. If there are still enough people to fill the houses at the same tier as similar surrounding locations, great. If not, the University should reconsider whether these locations are best used as co-ops if there is not enough demand for that kind of housing.

The University could allow the houses to pre-assign more or all of their members, leaving less spots open to the Draw. The reason that the University chooses to price the co-ops so low is that the preferences of people in the regular Draw for co-ops is relatively low, but why give these spots to people who don’t really want them instead of to people who very much do?

It is great that Housing promotes different types of living across campus and allows students the freedom to choose how they want to spend their time here on the Farm. But in a system that tries to be as fair as possible, it’s absurd that it only takes tier-three housing for a specially selected group of individuals to live at the very bottom of the Row, while very best case it costs you tier two to live in a sorority house almost as far away from the center of campus as FroSoCo, and tier-one Phi Kappa Psi is right next to Kairos. The University either needs to right this asymmetry or explain what interest it has in promoting and subsidizing those who choose to join co-ops over other students.


Interested in pre-assigning tier three?  Contact Zack (zhoberg@stanford.edu) or Dave (daveg4@stanford.edu).