The Netherlands' Brilliant Solution to Cut College Housing Costs

April 6th 2015

Laura Donovan

College would be a lot cheaper if you could live rent free. For Dutch college students, this is an long as you're cool living with elderly roommates.

The Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands lets university students live in small apartments for no charge in exchange for their participation in a project intended to help elderly residents. As Humanitas head Gea Sijpkes told PBS NewsHour, the students must devote 30 hours a month to being “good neighbors” to the elderly. This includes watching sports with them, celebrating special occasions like birthdays, and helping sick residents. All of this aims to increase the lifespan of the elderly residents, as research from the U.S.'s National Academy of Sciences shows a connection between increased mortality and loneliness and isolation.

“The students bring the outside world in, there is lots of warmth in the contact,” Sijpkes told PBS.

While this opportunity is rewarding to students in more than one way, there's still a downside for college students looking to have fun: the young people aren't allowed to disturb the elderly. Luckily, Sijpkes says this isn't a huge issue, as old folks tend to struggle with hearing anyway. But college students who partake in the project probably aren't very rowdy themselves. Sijpkes started the program two years ago after a student complained of loud, low-quality housing at universities.

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Luckily, the Netherlands isn't the only place to provide students with this unique opportunity. Ohio's Judson Manor senior citizen community gives Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) students a free place to stay if they perform for residents. Clara Catliota, a 93-year-old resident, told CBS last year that she's loved interacting with the college kids.

"We've all had wonderful children and they're gone now," she said. "Children grow up and go to school and they are gone. Mine are spread out all over. But to live with young people and learn from them. It's a whole new dimension to life."

CIM graduate student Marissa Plank told CBS that living at Judson Manor made her realize how much she related to some of the older folks, with whom she'd eat dinner and grab coffee, "When you actually start speaking to them, you find you have a lot more in common than you'd think."

Looks like this could be a surprisingly fun solution to cutting college costs, not to mention an invaluable once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. As student debt continues to climb in the U.S., more universities might want to look into adopting similar programs to enrich the lives of students while also eliminating some financial stresses.

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