High school students' decisions on where they will study are being swayed by the price of housing, with some universities being completely ruled out.
The Waikato Students' Union president says she's been told students are choosing Waikato University - despite it not being their first choice - based on the cost of living.
The number of students enrolled at the AUT and Massey universities collectively has fallen by about 5000 since last year, while Canterbury numbers are up 1100 on last year.
Victoria University projected its end-of-year roll count would be 300 more than last year.
Waikato University did not supply figures for this year, but the number of students enrolled increased by 100 between last year and the year before across the Hamilton and Tauranga campuses.
The University of Auckland did not supply figures but said its domestic roll increased "significantly". The number of students living at the University of Auckland halls increased by a third this year compared to 2019.
Of the university cities, Wellington was the most expensive with a median of $610 per week, followed by Auckland at $560.
Christchurch and Dunedin were the most affordable with a median of $450 per week, and Hamilton's figure was $495.
Halls of residence were mainly for first-year students, with prices varying and costing up to $20,000 a year.
Students can get a living costs loan of up to $242.53 a week; or an allowance, which is similar to the loan, but depends on the parents' income and does not need to be paid back.
First-time tertiary students can also take advantage of the Fees Free arrangement, which covers tuition fees, compulsory course costs and compulsory student services fees.
Waikato Students' Union president Kyla Campbell-Kamariera said students had told her Waikato wasn't their first choice of university but they chose it because Hamilton was more affordable to live in.
The number of Waikato students enrolled at the Tauranga campus last year was the highest it's been in five years with 815 students.
She said those in the halls and with scholarships typically did not worry about renting until they were faced with making decisions based on their financial circumstances.
"In extreme cases ... students leave university for the workforce to be able to afford to live, anywhere in Aotearoa really."
She has also been made aware of students of all ages being made homeless.
For students not from the Waikato area, the city is relatively easy to travel around and is close to many other cities, which makes visits home affordable, she said.
Campbell-Kamariera said the Tauranga campus made the university more accommodating to students from around the wider region, and there was a strong presence of Bay students at the Hamilton campus, too.
Ōtūmoetai College co-head girl Rose Mayhead was still weighing up her options - Victoria University or Waikato University.
She wanted to study Agri with a bachelor of law and Māori studies.
The points she was weighing her options against were living costs and how much rent would be in her second year once she left the halls of residence and went flatting.
While she was hoping to go to Wellington, Waikato was closer to home and offered lower living costs.
Co-head girl Lisa Evans said she eliminated Wellington straight away because it's too expensive, adding "I'm not going to go to Auckland because of the cost of housing".
While she is unsure what she wants to study, she knew she would likely study in Christchurch or on Auckland's North Shore.
She said it wasn't as simple as living where you would like to live, or staying in the city where you went to university once you were finished.
"You can't just go and buy a house, you'd probably have to come back home to your parents, or keep renting and keep losing money.
"It's scary," she said.
For Zach Reeder, house prices were the centre of his decision because he hoped to buy a house while at university - his options were Canterbury or Waikato.
He had been saving for years, working full-time in the holidays and he hoped to get a scholarship so all his savings could go towards his first home.
The plan was to buy a house after his first year at the halls, live in it and rent out the other rooms.
Watching house prices continue to rise made him "nervous" as working towards a $500,000 house now might still not be enough by the time he comes to buy.
"If I could, I'd buy a house right now, but I don't have enough savings."
Plan B would be to live in Hamilton in the accommodation above his father's bar and run the business for him while studying.
Rotorua's John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said they were also noticing at their school that students were "often" avoiding Auckland and Wellington.
"What we have found with students intent on going to Auckland and Wellington is that they have been very enterprising by getting part-time jobs and saving hard."
Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon's concern was with the level of debt students accumulated, which would need to be cleared significantly before buying a house.
Despite the fees-free support for the first year, hostel accommodation can be up to $20,000 and rent alone in students' second year could be up to $250 a week before study fees, food and expenses.
"Many students will face the prospect of having to clear a significant amount of debt before they can even consider owning their own home, if that prospect is even within their reach."
He said students needed to be better supported in order to promote future economic growth, improved productivity and a higher standard of living well into the future.
A Massey University spokeswoman said they could not say whether housing and rent prices impacted their enrolment, and many of the students studied online from around the country.
"At all three of our campuses, we have residential living options for students that are in line with the current average price for university living."
An AUT spokeswoman said they were not currently experiencing an impact on enrolment numbers linked to accommodation as their domestic student enrolments "increased significantly" in 2021.
University of Canterbury Vice-Chancellor, professor Cheryl de la Rey, said they had 1100 more students in March than the same time last year, with 21 per cent more Māori student enrolments and a 15 per cent rise in student numbers.
She said flatting in other cities is increasingly difficult on a student budget, making Christchurch more attractive thanks to many flats being within walking distance of the campus.
Financial help for students
• Living costs: up to $242.53 a week for living costs as part of your student loan.
• Student Allowance: up to $240 a week for under 24-year-olds and doesn't need to be paid back.
• Course-related costs: borrow up to $1000 as part of your student loan.
• Fees free: For first-time tertiary students, which covers tuition fees, compulsory course costs, and compulsory student services fees.
• Jobseeker Support Student Hardship: weekly payment to help with your living expenses during a study break of more than three weeks.