For years one of the most expensive parts of attending college, particularly at a public institution, had to do with the housing costs. College housing is often limited to dormitories and local apartments, which are often overpriced and decrepit.

But thanks to the real estate crisis, it looks like college housing in some places can be both luxurious and cheap.

Today’s abandoned McMansion. Tomorrow’s dormitory. According to an article by Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times:

Here in Merced, a city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and one of the country’s hardest hit by home foreclosures, the downturn in the real estate market has presented an unusual housing opportunity for thousands of college students. Facing a shortage of dorm space, they are moving into hundreds of luxurious homes in overbuilt planned communities.

And so students at the University of California, Merced are moving in. They’re studying, having parties, and playing beer pong in five-bedroom houses with granite kitchen counter tops, walk-in closets, and chandeliers. As Brown explains,

The finances of subdivision life are compelling: the university estimates yearly on-campus room and board at $13,720 a year, compared with roughly $7,000 off-campus. Sprawl rats sharing a McMansion — with each getting a bedroom and often a private bath — pay $200 to $350 a month each, depending on the amenities.

Living in a great big house while in college is not entirely novel—generations of students resided in fraternities, which are often housed in actual mansions—but still, this is unusual.

UC Merced understands what’s going on and is accommodating its subdivision dwellers. According to the article, the school’s bus system picks up students in certain subdivisions (no doubt with pretentious names like Applewood Estates and Lindenwood Farms) and returns them home at the end of the day.

And occupying such houses allows for a life of great splendor, at least for four years. As Brown writes “Jaron Brandon, a sophomore and a senator in the student government, [routinely] does his homework in the Jacuzzi in his six-bedroom house, on a waterproof countertop that he rigged over the tub.”

Living with create comforts like that, if Brandon can manage to ignore the nervous, cash strapped neighbors and the vacant plastic palaces around him, is sort of nice. That’s why Americans wanted to lived in such houses, even if they couldn’t afford them.

It’s also really weird, however. College students here are apparently routinely woken lawnmowers and children selling Girl Scout cookies. Adjusting to that tiny first apartment after college is probably going to be pretty difficult.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer