A Reverse Exodus

By Kingston Wong ‘14

Chicago Booth is well known for its academic rigor and Nobel Prize-winning faculty, among others. A less discussed but nonetheless important advantage is our ready access to both exciting city life and modern, spacious classroom facilities. Being close to social life in a vibrant city like Chicago is after all highly desirable to us MBAs.

According to Dean of Students, Ann Harvilla, the allure of the best Chicago can offer has caused our gradual migration from Hyde Park to trendier Chicago neighborhoods. In fact, lower rents during the Great Recession triggered a small “exodus” from Hyde Park, a phenomenon especially pronounced for first years (see table). Today, only 4.5% of us reside in Hyde Park.

Premium Rents

What is the price of a “downtown lifestyle”? In an April sampling, a 1-bedroom in the Loop costs $1,400-$1,800/month compared to $1,000/month in Hyde Park. Similarly, a 2-bedroom in the Loop can go for $2,600-$3,000/month versus Hyde Park’s $1,300-$1,500/month. In other words, one pays a $400-$800/month rent premium.

Let’s say 80% of the 1,160 Chicago Booth students live downtown and, conservatively, each student pays a $400/month premium. In this example, downtown students incur a combined rent premium of $3.3 million over nine months. That’s a big chunk of change!

It would be fine if we actually valued downtown life at that price tag. However, embedded within is the value from living near fellow students. Many left Hyde Park between 2007 and 2009 thanks to historically cheap rents downtown; today, downtown rents have surpassed pre-recession levels, but few of us would move back since downtown is “where everybody is.”

We have become prisoners of our own network effects.

$3 Million in the Bank

I firmly believe that we are better off living near Harper Center and would suggest a mass commitment to living in Hyde Park. But, what exactly are the benefits?

For starters, there’s the money: we could save millions in rent every year. Besides reducing the cost of pursuing an MBA, the savings could be invested in creating a stronger, more tight-knit community that will provide dividends for years to come.

In addition, such a move would blend academic, career, and social life seamlessly; promote interaction with faculty; and allow us to enjoy UChicago’s various resources. Moreover, we would contribute economically to Hyde Park, increasing the neighborhood’s vibrancy and shaping its unique character.

Finally, Hyde Park may allow us to build stronger connections. Top MBA programs with “strong community”, e.g. Tuck, Stanford, and Kellogg, are typically not smack in the middle of big cities. Living in a "rustic" neighborhood where we’re encouraged to develop creative distractions could be a bonding experience for us all.

Wouldn’t it be great to reap the benefits of a Hyde Park community, while remaining just a short ride away from the excitement of Chicago? To achieve this, the move must be made in tandem to overcome the aforementioned network effects. As we strive to elevate our brand and impact on the business world and beyond, could we agree to a shared commitment and build a stronger community?

Kingston Wong is the former Executive Vice President of the Graduate Business Council (GBC) and currently resides in the Loop.