UB's housing lottery should reward the responsible, not the lucky

Current housing system simply isn’t as fair as it could be

As a large university with multiple campuses, UB boasts a multitude of housing options – but not enough that a simple matter of bad luck can’t leave students with little choice in their living situation.

The 7,000-plus students who live in residence halls and on-campus apartments at UB rely on a lottery system to determine their fate, their commutes to classes and who they’ll be sharing a small room with every year.

When it comes time to choose (“choose” being a relative term in this circumstance) the lottery system randomly assigns students reservation numbers.

The only factor UB uses for designating lottery numbers is seniority – the students who’ve lived on campus the longest get the best numbers.

This may make sense and seem fair, except even among students with seniority, placement is still determined by nothing but luck – or lack thereof.

This system is simply too basic – it may be easy to understand but that’s because it’s uncreative and inflexible. A lottery not only leaves too much up to chance, but it causes complicated situations for students looking to live together in larger groups.

And there is no shortage of solutions to this issue.

UB’s housing office needs to accept that there’s a problem and open its eyes to the variety of options for more effective and adaptable systems.

One potential system is “first come, first serve,” which puts control in students’ hands. The students who submit their housing deposits early would get first dibs on housing. This system would still easily generate a numbered list, but it would be ordered by the student’s actions, not an algorithm.

Of course, this system calls into question the equity of basing something as important as housing selection on students’ economic resources.

Students who can pay immediately may do so because they’re organized, responsible and remember to sign up – this behavior should be rewarded.

But there are many students who simply can’t scrape together the $300 deposit early. Those students shouldn’t be denied a chance at better housing.

A “first come, first serve” system would also be complicated by students who receive scholarships and financial aid.

Despite the few complications in the system, UB could do some troubleshooting and creative thinking to make the system work.

UB could also consider using a student’s GPA or amount of earned credits to determine their housing priority number. By basing a student’s position on the housing list on merits, rather than economic status, the system would be more equitable and organized.

Students who work harder in class should be rewarded with better housing.

But any system has issues – many students have the same GPA and the same number of credits, so a tie breaking system would need to be generated.

And UB’s system of roommate assignments is even more random and problematic.

UB did away with its roommate preference questionnaire, claiming too many parents were filling out the form for their children.

So instead of risking a few incorrectly filled out forms, UB is using an algorithm to match nearly 7,000 students. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy.

Students entering college likely don’t know too many other students and among all the other requirements to start at UB, trolling the UB class Facebook pages for a good roommate is too time-consuming. It shouldn’t be solely up to the students, or an algorithm, to match roommates.

Simply, UB needs to re-instate a questionnaire form, and while they’re not perfect or foolproof, it would reduce the amount of students living in undesirable situations.

The excuse that too many parents were completing the form is weak and unsubstantiated. By giving students the opportunity to say they’d like to live with someone who has a regular sleeping schedule, who studies something similar to them or who can converse in their native tongue together, UB would allow students some control over their living situation.

Certainly a modified system may present some short-term challenges, but UB could do a little bit of research and work – like every other college has to – to come up with a system that rewards responsible students.

The current lottery system and lack of a roommate preference form is the easy way out for UB – they just have to switch on a computer, sit back and let students’ fates be decided by an algorithm.

The editorial board can be reached at editorial@ubspectrum.com