How does East Lansing's rent compare to other Big Ten schools?
When was the last time that you complained about rent? If you live in East Lansing, that might have been at the beginning of this month when autopay took out a few hundred dollars from your account and you almost broke down crying thinking of how many pizzas you can’t have.
But rent in East Lansing is relatively inexpensive for a college town. A State News analysis of the cost of living in college towns found East Lansing to be one of the most affordable cities in the Big Ten.
The State News ranked every Big Ten city from most to least expensive using data Sperling’s Best Places.
The cost of living indexes are based on a U.S. average of 100, according to the website. An amount below 100 means a city is cheaper than the U.S. average. A cost of living index above 100 means the city is more expensive.
With universities ranging from Maryland to Nebraska, there’s a difference in the cost of living embedded deep into their respective markets.
So, how much does it really cost to live near a Big Ten school?
Location, location, location
Evanston, Illinois, home to Northwestern University, takes the lead. With rent for a two-bedroom apartment starting at $1360 per month — it marks a $300 increase from state average.
The cost of living reflects this as, for every $100 spent on housing by an average U.S. citizen, a resident in Evanston pays $211. The overall cost of living index reaches 143 out of 100.
Wally Bobkiewicz has been the Evanston city manager for the past eight years. He describes the community as an extension of the city of Chicago.
“We are the community just north of the city of Chicago so our economy and costs associated with living here are not significantly different that those who live in the rest of the Chicagoland area,” Bobkiewicz said. “Because Evanston hosts Northwestern University, we have all the amenities that are part of the university: we have nice restaurants and hotels and shops and so that certainly increases the quality of life here.”
Bobkiewicz said he believes the quality of life is the main reason behind why Evanston has the highest cost of living in the Big Ten.
In second place, the university in the New York metropolitan area. Rutgers University, located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has a cost of living index of 123.
Renting a two-bedroom apartment in New Brunswick is $1620 per month – the highest rent in the Big Ten. While still being higher than some other universities, it is above state average by more than $200.
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor comes next. The city has a weighted score of 122 out of the 100 used to mark the U.S. standard.
In real numbers, this averages $1190 for a two-bedroom apartment. The state of Michigan average sits at $802, giving Ann Arbor a $388 mark up.
Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin, comes next. With an average cost of living at 119, the Badgers mark the fourth highest cost of living in the conference.
The two-bedroom apartment that we have been taking into consideration for comparison, costs $1110, with state average around $814.
Following Madison, the University of Maryland in College Park comes next.
The city has recently announced new plans to lower housing costs. As of 2016, however, it still takes $1280 per month to rent a two-bedroom apartment, which lies below the state average.
College Park is only nine miles north of Washington, D.C., and costs are representative of the area.
Ryan Chelton is the economic development coordinator for the city of College Park. He said he thinks the housing costs are fair for the location of the university.
“I know that we are doing our best to keep it down, I know we are trying to provide a number of student housing development projects,” Chelton said.
University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, has the second highest enrollment in the conference with more than 51,000 students. A two-bedroom apartment costs $990 per month — about the same as state average.
The cost of housing is what makes the difference, pushing the Golden Gophers to 116 on the index.
University Park is home to Pennsylvania State University. Located in between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the rural area drives rent down.
A two-bedroom apartment at Penn State costs $920 per month, about $20 cheaper than what the average resident of Pennsylvania would have to pay.
Up next comes The Ohio State University. A two-bedroom apartment costs $800 per month in Columbus, compared to state average at $746.
The most bang for your buck
University of Iowa takes the golden standard. Rent in Iowa City is the closest to 100. Renting a two-bedroom apartment is $880 per month.
Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, comes just below the U.S. average line. Having a score of 96 in heath, it is the first university in the conference to be considered affordable.
The West Lafayette market asks for $890 for a two-bedroom apartment.
Erik Carlson, the director of development for the city, said new developments haven’t driven up the rent costs.
“Since I began we have approved three buildings, 10 stories or taller, that are ranked student housing and there has been an influx of demand to build these types of structure,” Carlson said.
West Lafayette has an interesting relationship with Purdue University as it was not until three years ago that the university became part of the city.
It has only been since 2014 that the university itself has been part of the city proper,” Carlson said. “It has really led to a big partnership between the university and the city to make sure that we are growing on the same track.”
Being a smaller community, West Lafayette heavily relies on Purdue for economic growth. The city is aware of this, Carlson said.
“For us, we have no illusion that the city of West Lafayette wouldn’t be what we are were not for the fact that a Big Ten university is here,” he said.
Being one of the original six in the eastern division, the Indiana University Hoosiers are hosted in Bloomington, Indiana. The enrollment is around 48,000, bringing it to the same level of MSU.
However, the cost of living in this Big Ten school is 6 points below average. With $920 being the city average rent for a two-bedroom apartment and $764 being the state average.
The next university to make the list sits at the same level as Indiana University.
East Lansing scores well below average as far as costs. However, as described by geographic information science junior Kyle MacLean in a previous article, “the rent is too damn high.”
Costing East Lansing residents $930 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, rent is more than $150 above state average.
David Haywood is the planning and zoning administrator for the city of East Lansing. He said he believes communication is the key to the affordability of the market.
“Since we are in such close proximity and have a big impact on each other, we kind of have to be able to work together to address the issues that come along with student housing,” Haywood said.
As far as the low cost of living, Haywood said availability might a driving factor.
“It may have to do with housing stock and amount provided, there are so many other options … it might just be a supply issue,” he said.
Dropping low to 88 on the U.S. standard, University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is the second to last on this list. With an average rent of $830 for the same two-bedroom apartment, Urbana stands about $200 dollar below state average.
Diane Marlin is the mayor of Urbana. She said the city works with the university to ensure student housing is a realistic option.
“We collaborate with the university on a number of projects, the university is embedded in our community,” Marlin said.
Still, Urbana differs from many other cities. It has the smallest population of Big Ten communities and the university next to it is essential for its survival.
“(The university) is our largest employer and our economy really depends on the university,” Marlin said.
So how can a small city like Urbana keep its cost low? Marlin said it has to do with regional costs.
“In general, this part of the country is very affordable,” she said. “You are looking at housing and energy and transportation cost, so in general the Midwest, particularly our downstate Illinois communities are very affordable.”
Number 14 on this list and therefore the cheapest Big Ten school for cost of living is the University of Nebraska.
Lincoln is the host for the smallest public university in the conference with enrollment around 25,000.
The cost of living is just above 80 on the 100 U.S. standard and average rent is the lowest on the list. Having to pay $630 for a two-bedroom apartment, Lincoln is at the same level as a studio apartment in East Lansing.