A top Northwestern University official says the school believes it is hurt in student satisfaction surveys because so many of its students live off campus.

Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah says student satisfaction is associated with continuing to live on campus as students move through their four years of undergraduate study.

Chinniah, who was hired at NU by President Morton Schapiro two years ago and had previously worked at the University of Chicago and Vanderbilt University, told residents at a NU/City Committee meeting Tuesday evening, “I come from schools where all four years lived on campus.”

He also said most of NU’s peer institutions require most of their students to live on campus.

Northwestern now is trying to implement a rule to require freshmen and sophomores to live on campus, starting with the class year entering next fall. Currently only freshmen are required to live on campus.

Community resident committee member Tom Gemmell, with Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward.

Several residents at the meeting objected to the school’s preliminary plan to build a larger dorm on the site of the existing one at 1835 Hinman Ave.

They suggested a number of alternative locations that school officials at the meeting said wouldn’t be practical, including:

  • The Garrett Theological Seminary property at mid campus — which is under a 99 year lease that doesn’t expire until 2034 and has an option the seminary can exercise to renew it for another 99 years.
  • The Sigma Alpha Epsilon headqurters property at 1856 Sheridan Road — which is not owned by the university.
  • Property on the northwest corner of Clark Street and Chicago Avenue. It was shown in a 2009 NU plan as a development site. But John D’Angelo, the school’s facilities vice president, said after the school looked more closely at the engineering issues involved in developing the property, it became infeasible.
  • Elder, Bobb and Sargent halls on north campus. D’Angelo said adding more dorm space there wouldn’t help solve the current space shortage — which exists on south campus.

NU’s Alan Anderson and John D’Angelo.

But another alternative appeared to be one the school officials considered to be worth some further evaluation.

That idea, suggested by resident Jeanne Lindwall, was to build a new, bigger dorm across Sheridan Road from 1835 Hinman on the site now occupied by the Fairchild Hall dorm.

Fairchild Hall, circled in red, and 1835 Hinman, circled in blue, on an image from Google Earth.

D’Angelo said Fairchild, with 240 beds, is about the same size as 1835 Hinman, which has 220. And the two buildings are of roughly the same mid-1980s vintage.

Residents suggested that if a new dorm on the Fairchild site had dining facilities, which currently are located in 1835 Hinman, it would eliminate the need for hundreds of students to cross heavily-travelled Sheridan Road several times a day.

Judy Fiske.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who chairs the committee, suggested that at the committee’s next meeting in December, school officials return to discuss “other locations that might possibly work for you.”

She said, “We are in an unusual situation where there’s a thriving residential community that complements your campus. I can’t think of another campus that has real residents, without almost a DMZ around the campus.” That happened, she added, “because residents stood up and said we need to protect our neighborhood.”

Related stories

Meeting explores trade-offs in new NU dorm plan (9/7/16)

NU to discuss plan for 7-story dorm on Hinman (9/6/16)

NU to discuss new dorm with neighbors (8/17/16)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Nonsense`

    It is nonsense that students PREFER to live on campus.  Ask alumns.  The ability to set up one's own living situation and to cook for self, not pay for unwanted NU meals, be able to live a bit like an adult is one of the attractions of NU, with a wide variety of off campus living (from bare bones to luxury) available.  Many students want to live off campus.  Why must NU move back to the 1950s with pareitals, etc. 


  2. NU dorms

    If the students are happier living on campus then they should pay property taxes like the rest of the Evanston tax,paying residents!

  3. NU alumnus from the not-too

    NU alumnus from the not-too-distant past here. I feel strongly that my undergraduate  experience would have been far more satisfying had more of my peers lived on campus. Instead, we were largely cast to the four winds after freshman year, leading to a highly fragmented social experience. 

    1. NU Costs on campus

      Following is an NU news story about room and board and links to costs for meal plans and room by dorm.
      To me they seem pretty high. I know upper middle class parents at different schools also complain and say they can wait until their kids don't have to live on campus.

      Of course living off-campus holds many surprises for students unless they have friends who educate them.  Since rents, food costs and others vary, I won't compare on campus with off-campus here.  

      “Standard room and board rates will increase 3.7 percent to $15,489 from $14,936 for an undergraduate student living in a double room with a full meal plan option. Approximately 3,600 of Northwestern’s 8,300 undergraduate students live in University residence halls.”

    2. Dorms vs. off-campus living

      We moved to our current location near campus 50 years ago when almost all undergrads lived on campus.  Gradually, houses were sold to investors and we and other neighbors found ourselves surrounded by students, many who think it's ok to disturb the peace whenever they feel like it.  The university is finally taking some responsibility and requiring fewer to live off campus.  One way they could make it a better and cheaper experience would be apartment style dorms like the ones at Roosevelt and Columbia in downtown Chicago.  Our grandson lived in a student building with four roomates in a unit that had four bedroom and a common space with a kitchen area.  This would enable students to buy their own groceries and make their own meals.  Neighbors around campus know that the real reason that many students want to live off campus is lack of supervision regarding alcohol use and yards to party in.  

      1. Students are better than family kids

        I have lived off-campus for over 55 years and never had a problem with NU students.I have had problems with whiny Neighbors.

        1. Student neighbors

          You're lucky, Jean.  Do you live next door to two houses with 12 students total, and a big back yard for parties that the police shut down on a regular basis?  One of those houses, 44" from our house was a cottage and the City approved a 2 story addition that added 4 more bedrooms.  After they did this the City outlawed second story additions on non-conforming properties.  Too late for us.

  4. NU and world rankings

    While NU and Evanston discuss housing and NU discusses "safe places" and such, this link is to the Times Education Supplement ranking of world universities.  NU comes in at #20 and U.Chicago #10.

    In contrast to U.S. News and other rankings, measures like acceptance rates are not used.  The rankings are based more on research and teaching.  TES has pretty much been the gold standard for years—esp. for students, faculty and schools concerned with research and graduate education.

  5. Cost of off-campus housing

    College Off-Campus Housing  U.S. News and World Report 9/13/16

    Size of apartment not defined, but assume same number of bedrooms. [No typos !]

    NU $1,909

    Princeton $4,529

    Harvard and MIT $2,594

    University of Chicago $1,687

    Stanford $6,139

    U.Cal Berkeley $3,534

    Notre Dame $723

    Washington U. St. Louis $881

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.