RA Positions Become Popular as Economic Turmoil Persists


Patrick Comey, FCLC ’10, said he applied to be an RA to build his resume, not solely for financial benefit. (Lisa Spiteri/The Observer)

Published: April 9, 2009

The position of Resident Assistant (RA) has become increasingly appealing at colleges across the nation as the economic downturn progresses, as it means a year of free housing for those chosen for the job. Students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) have expressed many reasons for being interested in an RA position, among them the financial benefit.

According to Jenifer Campbell, director of Residential Life at FCLC, applications for RA positions at FCLC actually decreased this year, but she attributed this to the fact that there are fewer positions open for next year. Campbell was unable to provide exact numbers.

The cost of living in McMahon Hall has gone up from $13,485 for a single, $11,540 for a double and $8,250 for a triple to $14,295, $12,230 and $8,745, respectively; approximately a five percent increase. Considering that RAs live in singles, these students will save over $14,000 in the 2009-2010 school year.

Russell Dowling, FCLC ’11, said that he initially applied to be an RA because the job itself appealed to him, but “as the year went on and the country’s financial system weakened, [his] family’s investments began to shrink” and his motivation became more financially oriented.

“Being an RA was going to be sort of a financial loophole for me. It was going to allow me to continue living at school while saving around $12,000 at the same time,” he said.

Dowling said that the news that he was not offered an RA position meant that he would have to rethink his living situation for next year. He said that he is currently appealing to receive more financial aid for the 2009-2010 school year, but if he is denied any extra money, he might have to move to an apartment in a cheaper area of New York City or commute from home.

“This is definitely something that I didn’t anticipate, but I’ll make it work,” he said.

James Robilotta, resident director for freshmen students, interviews those who apply to be RAs.

“Basically, no matter what, the RA position is very appealing financially, especially in New York City and at FCLC,” Robilotta said. He also said that it wasn’t apparent that financial reasons were more prevalent this year at FCLC, “but that could be because [the candidates] were smart and didn’t say that in the interview.” As far as students who do mention finances in the interview, Robilotta said that there is “no red flag” that goes up.

“I greatly appreciate when [students] are that honest with me because it is a sensitive issue,” he said.

Gabriela Jerez, FCLC ’09, said that she initially wanted to be an RA to help “build community and care for others that are away from home” and also because she wanted to be able to live in the dorms instead of at home with her parents.

“I live in New Jersey, and my mother was not going to pay for my housing, period,” she said. The decision to become an RA was a “win-win” situation for Jerez, she said, because it allows her to both interact with students and live on campus.

“Now that the economy has collapsed, I am really really glad that…I do not have to worry about paying for housing,” she said.

As a dance major, Sarah Daley, FCLC ’09, was “hardly ever at [McMahon] and was always around the same group of people,” she said. “As an RA, I got to change it up a bit.”

While Daley said that the free housing was “a plus” the first year she was an RA, it was a major factor in her decision to apply to be an RA for a second year.

“I have three younger brothers, one on the way to college in the next year, and there would have been no way that my parents could have helped me out with housing if I wasn’t an RA,” Daley said.

Dane Cotsonas, FCLC ’10, said money was not the main reason that he applied to be an RA next year.

“[But] that isn’t to say that finances weren’t at all on my mind,” he said. Cotsonas said that he thought that he would enjoy being an RA and would carry out the job well but was not offered a position.

Cotsonas said, “It would have been a great relief to see fewer numbers on my tuition bill, and I’d have welcomed the extra work that came along with that relief. Even so, being that I don’t have the position, I have the time to find other work that could potentially be even more beneficial.”

With all of the loans he has already taken out in order to pay for Fordham, Cotsonas said that he “never expected to live in luxury, or too comfortably at all.”

“While it would have been nice to have one less burden, we all have to pay our dues some way or another,” he said.

Justine Rella, FCLC ’10, said that she is not getting off easy by being an RA.

“[My family was] severely affected by the economic collapse in 1993. My father was laid off from his job of 17 years… and what he was saving for my college education disappeared,” Rella said.

Rella said that she has paid for her tuition mostly with loans and sees her education as an investment that she will be paying off for many years.

“Being an RA helps to lessen the burden, but I will still be $50,000 in debt when I graduate—which is probably on par with most residents, or more,” she said. “Every bit of financial aid helps, of course, but this isn’t the kind of job that you get into or stay in because of ‘free’ housing, because it’s anything but. I work very hard in my job.”