The College will not allow more than 200 students to live off campus next year, after 217 students lived off campus this academic year. The cap marks Bowdoin’s first attempt to regulate off-campus housing numbers. The College was one of only two NESCAC schools that did not regulate off-campus housing, despite having the second-highest percentage of students living off campus. 

The change comes in response to the steady upward trend in the number of students living off-campus. Over the past three years, the College has seen a 56 percent increase in the number of upperclass students living off campus. Today, nearly a third of Bowdoin seniors—and about 12 percent of the total student body— live off campus, according to Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster. 

The College’s decision to limit off-campus housing also stemmed from cultural and financial factors. Housing for the academic year costs $6,356; the College loses that money when students choose to live off campus and beds are left empty. 

Foster said limiting the number of students who live off campus also allows the community to address the meaning of Bowdoin as a residential college.

Students who signed leases before January 12, the day Foster informed students that a limit would be enforced, automatically have permission to live off campus during the 2017-18 academic year. All other students must apply for permission from Residential Life (ResLife) before signing a lease.

The new limit will serve as a placeholder while the College develops a new housing policy and considers the condition of and possible improvements to existing upperclass housing, according to Foster. The College plans to solicit feedback from the campus community to inform this process. 

Aside from Tufts, Bowdoin is currently the only NESCAC school without an off-campus housing policy in place. Williams, Trinity and Bates are among the schools that cap the number of students allowed to live off campus, while schools such as Wesleyan and Connecticut College do not allow students to live off campus. 

Some students were frustrated by the timing of the policy. Sophomore Lenoir Kelley had already begun talking to a landlord about off-campus housing for her senior year, which is not an uncommon practice among sophomores.

“[My friends and I have] been kind of frustrated that the school has suddenly implemented this policy, and we just feel like it’s a little bit of an overreach on ResLife’s part,” she said.

Kelley is concerned that her friends may not be able to live in the house they had planned on for senior year, despite having already made moves to sign a lease with the landlord. At the same time, she felt the College has been receptive to students’ feelings.

“I’m happy that they’re considering students’ feedback and hopefully moving forward with some alternative on-campus housing options because honestly, for upperclassmen, there are not a lot of great options.”

Lisa Bossi ’87 and her husband, also a Bowdoin alum, have been renting to Bowdoin students for about nine years. She is concerned that the change in policy will make it more difficult to find tenants.

“That is the one concern that we have as landlords, that the timing of this is going to be disruptive for students to make plans,” she said. “We really love the idea of having students in our neighborhood, and the neighbors also really appreciate really good tenants. It’s a really nice way for students to get to learn about certain responsibilities they won’t learn living on campus, and they very often end up with their first reference for their next apartment. So it’s been a really nice situation, and we’re hoping that this new rule doesn’t break the fluidity of the word of mouth.”

Some students choose to live off campus for social reasons. Jodi Kraushar ’17, who currently lives off campus, said she prefers the off-campus social space. 

“As I got older ... I was feeling like it would be really nice to have my own space ... and I think that’s a really great benefit of living off campus, especially as a woman, in a house with other women, and we can just sort of have spaces that feel really comfortable for ourselves,” she said. “I don’t think there [is] really any upperclassman housing that’s conducive to that kind of social setting like ours is.”

She believes that the regulations of Bowdoin’s social scene encourage some students to seek alternative living arrangements.

“I think there have been policies like alcohol policies [and] party registration policies that have made students feel like Bowdoin is even more confining and maybe hand-holding than they want,” she said. 

Kraushar hopes the College will improve senior housing, but she acknowledged the difficulties involved in this task.

Professor of Cinema Studies Tricia Welsch, who has worked as a College House advisor for 15 years, thinks that restricting the number of students living off campus would be beneficial for both the College and the surrounding community. She believes that the upperclassman practice of living off campus detracts from the College’s social climate.

“The plan was for the College House system to be a real center and hub for academic and extracurricular life, and while it works that way for students who are first years and sophomores ... the seniors really aren’t coming back into life at Bowdoin anymore, not in the way that they used to do,” she said. “I think increased numbers of students living off campus really diminishes that sense of possible community.”

Welsch lives next door to a house rented annually by students and says that college students do not tend to make the best neighbors.

“I made a lot of noise when I was a student too. It’s what you do. You’re not a good neighbor because it’s not your time to be a good neighbor,” she said. “I do think that at least some students try very hard to be good neighbors and want to be good neighbors ... but you know, they’re not homeowners. They don’t live like permanent residents live, and it’s not just quiet. [There] is trash, upkeep of buildings. It’s all kinds of things.”

Welsch commended the College for taking steps to regulate the number of students living off campus and believes such steps will ultimately be better for relations between the College and the town. 

“Most of the places that are desirable around campus are historic homes where people are attached to the College in one way or another or have a long-standing interest in the College and seeing it thrive. The idea of making an adversarial relationship out of that is not good,” she said. “If the College now can do something that will limit that, that’s good for the College as well, the College as an institution in this town.”