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Happy Dorms for Happier Future
Jung Woo Jae  |  wjtow@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2015.06.06  10:30:26
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 Housing costs are a large burden for university students from the provinces. Many students living near schools pay about 500 thousand won for monthly rent. To alleviate the financial pressure on their parents, they have to reduce time spent on studying and get a part-time job. These residential costs, combined with high tuition fees, sometimes lead college students to borrow loans, forcing them to start their career with debts. To them, dormitories provided at lower costs are the most reliable solution.

Despite the necessity, the supply of college dormitories is markedly low. On average, only 14.17 percent of students who attend universities in Seoul were accepted to dorms. To make matters worse, the fees of dorms recently built with private capital are unaffordable to many students. For instance, the monthly fee of the Frontier dormitory in Korea University (KU) is about 500 thousand won. On average, the private dorms bill about 400 thousand won to students. Though the primary purpose of college dorms should be to provide students with economical residence, those dorms have failed to play their fundamental role.
 
   
 
 
As a measure to tackle the lack of inexpensive student residences, the Korea Foundation for the Promotion of Private Schools (KFPPS) has come up with a project called public “Happy Dorms.” Through the joint project with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation, it is constructing low-fee dormitories for the underprivileged. Unlike other dormitories, happy dorms’ criteria for admission are focused on selecting economically deprived students. Beneficiaries of national basic livelihood act are prioritized. Students wanting to register are obliged to submit documents proving the annual income level of their families. Other than those who are financially underprivileged, some happy dorms accept physically disabled students. They also have special single rooms for the disabled. This admission policy is well-fitted to the primary purpose of “public” dorms.
 
Currently, there are ten happy dormitories either constructed or aided by the KFPPS. Among them, seven have been constructed each for their own university and solely for students of that university. They are operated and administered by their individual universities. In Seoul, Kyung Hee University (KHU) and Sejong University have happy dorms. Meanwhile, there is also a dormitory which students from different universities can live in, and it is operated by the KFPPS. It is located at Hongjedong in Seodaemun-gu. In addition to these dormitories, the foundation is financially aiding economically deprived students living in the private dorms of KHU and Busan University of Foreign Studies by offering them loans at a low interest rate.
 
Happy dorms’ cost-reducing effect for students is substantial. The average monthly fee of newly built happy dorms is 2.7 hundred thousand won, which is about 30 percent lower than that of private dorms. Furthermore, in case of Hongjedong’s associated happy dorm, the monthly fee is 1.8 hundred thousand won, and students who receive recommendations from their schools get a discount of 500 thousand.
 
The happy dorm project is smoothly performing its function as an alternative residence for the underprivileged. According to KFPPS, 53 percent of students living in happy dorms are from lower-class families. The average student satisfaction level of happy dorms measured through a survey was above 80 out of 100. The government’s and KFPPS’s efforts to increase the supply of high-quality dorm rooms at affordable prices were successful on these numerical aspects.
 
To facilitate the construction of public dorms, the government has offered policy support by abolishing bulk regulations and setting stabilizing housing for students as one of the major agendas. Also, the foundation is receiving additional applications from different universities to increase the beneficiaries of the happy dorm project. KFPPS has a plan to open two more dorms in the next semester. One will be constructed in the Kyungdong University Moonmak campus, and the other will be in the Cheju Tourism College.
 
   
▲ The exterior and interior of Hongje-dong’s associated happy dorm. Provided by KFPPS.
   
▲ The exterior and interior of Hongje-dong’s associated happy dorm. Provided by KFPPS.
 
It is true that happy dorms are contributing to the stabilization of the housing situation for college students. However, the project needs further quantitative development in order to become a more effective measure for the lack of affordable student residences. Among the currently existing 10 dormitories, only one is available for students from different universities. Since the other nine dorms are for enrolled students of certain universities, the range of beneficiaries is extremely narrow.
 
Moreover, the number of students each dorm can accommodate is small compared to the large demand. Most happy dorms accommodate fewer than one thousand students, and each of the two happy dorms in KHU can accept only 70 students. To make public dorms an alternative a majority of students can think of, more investments on the expansion of the happy dorm project are crucial.
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