College to fold a rare student perk: Full-service laundry

Generations of students have learned that with all the freedoms of leaving home for college comes at least one hassle: They must do their own laundry.

Except at Davidson College.

Students at the private liberal arts school in North Carolina for the past 90 years have enjoyed the rare perk of full-service laundry. They drop off a bag of dirty clothes at the laundering center. A day or two later, they pick up their laundry all clean and folded. The service is included in mandatory student fees.

Now the 1,850-student college is phasing out this luxury.

“It’s a tradition that obviously dates back to when the campus had a slightly different feel,” Carol Quillen, Davidson’s president, said Thursday. “We think it’s time to discontinue free and full-service laundry for our students.”

It will take a year to complete the transition, in part because the college wants to help the 14 people who work at its laundry find positions elsewhere.

By May 2015, Davidson will require students to do their own wash. However, they won’t have to pay when they use campus washers and dryers. Quillen said the college studied whether to go with coin-operated machines. “We decided that wasn’t the right move at this moment,” she said.

Of course, nothing at a college is really free. Davidson will charge $45,377 in the coming year for tuition and fees, plus another $12,769 for room and board.

Quillen said ending the laundry service will save the college about $400,000 a year, money that could be channeled into dozens of other academic and residential activities.

Davidson, a highly ranked selective college, is actually known for laundry. Quillen said alumni remember their “laundry numbers,” which are assigned to students to ensure that their bags of clothes don’t get mixed up.

The Fiske Guide to Colleges says the perk “is a reminder of Davidson’s days as an all-male school when such services were the only way to keep undergrads socially presentable.”

Davidson has been co-ed since the 1970s. Quillen said men use the service more than women, who rely more on self-service machines. She said she’s not sure why. “Women might prefer to wash their own clothes,” Quillen said.

The Washington Post asked Georgetown and George Washington universities about their laundry policies. GWU spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the university does not provide laundry services to its students.

Georgetown spokeswoman Rachel Pugh said the same. “Students have access to community laundry rooms to wash, dry and fold their own clothes,” Pugh said.

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