Douglas Oliver writes for the Martin Center that colleges should stop forcing students to live on campus.

A long-time practice for many private universities has been to require most freshmen and sophomores to live in campus residence halls. State-supported public universities, too, have copied their private counterparts in recent years. However, doing so drives up the cost of education and restricts the constitutional rights of public university students—all in the name of “the university experience.”

Starting in 2016, many full-time freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and North Carolina Central University were required to live on campus. In 2017, North Carolina State University began enforcing a similar policy. Other universities, such as UNC-Charlotte and Elizabeth City State University, are considering on-campus living mandates. Local students can usually get a mandate exemption if they live with their parents, but few exceptions are made for students who wish to live with non-parental relatives or family friends.

Many universities claim that living on campus improves the likelihood of academic success. For example, UNC-Wilmington claims that “research indicates students who live on-campus earn higher GPA’s.” NC State simply claims that “living on campus is an essential part of the Wolfpack experience.”

When universities assert that students who live on campus earn higher grades, they often do not consider the possibility that students who choose to live on campus are a self-selecting group. For example, students who voluntarily live on campus likely come from wealthier families than those who live in less-expensive housing off campus. Furthermore, the important variable may be proximity to campus rather than living on campus. That is, living in private housing within walking distance of campus may offer educational benefits similar to living on campus.