At Wednesday’s Undergraduate Council of Students meeting, Vice President Jason Carroll ’21 made two suggestions on how to subsidize laundry for students with demonstrated financial need. First, the University could include laundry in housing fees; this way, students who receive free housing as part of their financial aid package would subsequently receive free laundry. Second, the University could give students with demonstrated financial need cards preloaded with Bear Bucks to use for laundry.
Ultimately, the move to subsidize laundry isn’t unheard of. Schools, such as Princeton and Columbia, already offer subsidized laundry services to their students. Of the two plans Carroll presented, the University should pursue the first option. Including laundry in housing fees would effectively subsidize laundry for students who might otherwise struggle to pay to clean their clothes.
Laundry might not seem like a big expense to some, but at $3.00 a load, it can add up. Last year, I did two loads of laundry a week. There are 15 weeks in each semester, which comes out to $180 a year, equivalent to what I earned working 16 hours as a teaching assistant in the economics department. I am fortunate that paying for laundry was not a financial strain, but it is easy to see how it could be for many students.
While preloaded Bear Bucks cards would also subsidize laundry, it is more logistically complicated. Using Bear Bucks cards to pay for laundry raises the question of monitoring: Will the University track students’ spending to ensure they are only using the funds to do laundry? That seems inappropriate and invasive. Moreover, having to watch students spend their Bear Bucks seems like an inordinate waste of time for a University administrator. Including laundry in the housing fee allows the University to avoid this dilemma altogether.
Additionally, incorporating laundry costs into the housing fee would discourage students from overloading laundry machines. Although I usually split my weekly laundry into two loads, on lighter weeks, it was tempting to fit all my laundry into one washer and save $1.50. I can imagine other students do the same. Unfortunately, overloading laundry machines strains the machine’s bearings, which can cause the machine to break. If I had already paid for a semester’s worth of laundry, I wouldn’t face the urge to cram my clothes into the machines in order to save money. Having the housing fee cover laundry would lower maintenance costs by preventing washing machine breakdowns. This is good for students because it prevents unexpected inconveniences. When I lived in Young Orchard, we only had three washing machines; when one broke, wait time for laundry increased significantly.
Some might argue that having students prepay for laundry through the housing fee might encourage them to do excessive amounts of laundry, which would waste electricity and water. But this scenario seems unlikely — given the time and hassle of doing laundry, students are unlikely to want to do significantly more of it, regardless of cost.
Including laundry in housing fees is in line with how the University has handled similar problems in the past. For example, students who started Brown on or after July 1, 2018 now pay a one time $100 academic records fee. This fee covers transcripts for life, meaning students won’t need to pay every time they request an official academic transcript. By charging all students this one time fee, the University can more easily cover transcript fees for students with demonstrated financial need.
The University has made progress in helping students fund the ancillary costs of attending college. For example, this fall, the University expanded their textbook grant program from 85 students to 1,100 students. But there is still more work to be done. In order to ensure that all students can thrive at Brown, the University should subsidize laundry costs by including them in the housing fee.
Rebecca Aman ’20 can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.