Edsel Velasco, Yolanda Concepcion, and Jarrel Paloma, 7, help Christian Concepcion, right, move his possessions into the dorms during move-in day at San
Edsel Velasco, Yolanda Concepcion, and Jarrel Paloma, 7, help Christian Concepcion, right, move his possessions into the dorms during move-in day at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. San Jose State had its longest-ever waiting list this year for dorms. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Tired of dorm life, Daniel Harris-Lucas made up his mind: He would spend his senior year off-campus, away from all of the annoying rules and supervision -- not to mention the false fire alarms that would drag him out of bed and down 11 flights of stairs in the middle of the night.

His excitement darkened when he saw some of the options near San Jose State: $1,500-per-month one-bedroom apartments; the basement of a run-down house for $450.

"For the longest time I couldn't find anything that was affordable or decent enough for a college student," said Harris-Lucas, who ended up moving in with his brother.

With notoriously steep Bay Area apartment prices climbing to new heights, college students heading back to school are trying to cope with housing costs that are gobbling up their meager budgets. The dorm waiting list at San Jose State hit a new high this year, fueled by record off-campus rents. Cal State East Bay, UC Berkeley and Santa Clara University are squeezing extra beds into rooms to accommodate an unusually high demand for on-campus housing.

Some public university students and their parents, who spent years saving up for college, are dismayed to discover housing can be just as expensive or more than tuition.

Take UC Berkeley, where tuition and fees are $12,860 a year. On-campus housing is $14,200 for the academic year, more than 50 percent higher than the national average for public universities.


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"The fact that housing can cost the same as tuition is definitely a problem," said Rory Runser, a junior chemistry major at UC Berkeley who said he avoided a rent hike by staying in the same place a second year.

Last week outside San Jose State's aging Joe West Hall, Diana Monterola stood under the hot August sun, waiting for her freshman son to return for the rest of his boxes. As families around her pushed carts heaped with bedding, hangers, mini-fridges and lamps, she contemplated the cost of her son's education.

"I always thought it was the tuition, but it's not the tuition," Monterola said. "It's the housing that surprised me -- it's the bulk of the cost of college."

Even when California's public colleges have held the line on tuition, as they have this year, students still aren't catching a break. Room and board are half the cost of an undergraduate education at San Jose State, according to the university. Tuition and fees, by contrast, make up just 30 percent of the total bill.

At many colleges, off-campus living is considered a less expensive alternative to the dorms. But it's not as cheap as it used to be. In Berkeley, the average apartment price has surged 16 percent since 2011, to $2,466, according to data from RealFacts, a Novato consulting group. At $1,932 a month, the average rent in San Jose costs 17 percent more than it did in 2011 and 7 percent more than last year.

Silicon Valley sticker shock appears to have driven more students than usual to San Jose State's residence halls this year, campus administrators say. Dorm living costs $12,400, about $350 less than what the school estimates it costs to live off campus.

San Jose State was able this year to find space for out-of-town freshmen and returning students who submitted their applications on time. But at one point, 800 students were waiting for one of the college's 3,500 dorm beds to open up. Freshmen who live within 30 miles of campus -- roughly the distance between San Jose State and Hayward -- had no guarantee they'd get a spot. Some were forced to live at home or apartment hunt, as were other freshmen who missed the deadline.

Joseph Kaimalu Shinshiro, right, and his new roommate Sherman Vuong, relax in their apartment before moving their belongings in at the the Colonnade
Joseph Kaimalu Shinshiro, right, and his new roommate Sherman Vuong, relax in their apartment before moving their belongings in at the the Colonnade Apartments in downtown San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. SJSU Freshman Joseph Kaimalu Shinshiro is one of hundreds of students who didn't get into San Jose State's dorms this year, as demand reached record levels (in part, because he made a mistake in the application). He found four other students on Facebook who were in the same situation, and they rented a two-bedroom place together, across from campus. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Meanwhile, housing applications from transfer students flooded in at twice their normal volume, and more returning students opted to stay on campus once they realized "it will cost an arm and a leg to move across the street," said Bill Nance, SJSU's vice president of student affairs. "The rental rates in San Jose have just really, really jumped in the past year."

In Berkeley, the rates are even higher, according to RealFacts. Craigslist postings advertise an aging, two-bedroom apartment near the Cal campus for nearly $3,000 per month and a 500-square-foot apartment "perfect for 2-4 people" for $2,100.

UC Berkeley senior Alina Zhu uses "air quotes" to describe the $2,400-a-month, "two-bedroom" apartment she shared with three other students her sophomore year. "One of the rooms was barely a single," she said.

This summer, she said, she saw it listed at $2,600.

Like many college students sleeping in loft beds and in living rooms to save money, Joseph Kaimalu Shinshiro is using simple division to make the bottom line work: squeezing five people into a two-bedroom apartment across from San Jose State.

He said he could barely sleep after his freshman orientation this summer, when he learned he had made a mistake in his housing application and would be shut out of the dorms. He thought he'd have to commute from his family's home in Redwood City, a trip he figured would take an hour and a half each way by train.

But soon he saw Facebook postings from other freshmen in the same bind. Before long, he said, "I found these four random guys to be my roommates."

They plan to "make it as much like a dorm as possible," he said, with one bonus: Did he mention they have a pool?

Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.