Dozens of freshman and returning students move into the George Washington University Mabel Nelson Thurston Hall. Many of these students don’t worry about the expense of living on campus. (Marvin Joseph/THE WASHINGTON POST)

If I recommended that people take out loans to pay for several years of food and rent expenses that they otherwise couldn’t afford, you’d probably think I was being foolish.

And yet that is exactly what students — and their parents — are encouraged to do when they borrow for room and board in order to have the “full college experience.”

Many colleges and universities require freshmen to live on campus, knowing that many will have to borrow to do so. (Schools often waive the requirement under certain circumstances, including “extreme” financial hardship or if a student will live nearby with a parent or guardian.)

In pitching the benefits, schools argue that students who live in residence halls have an easier transition to college life.

For in-state students living on campus at public four-year colleges and universities this school year, room and board represented an average of 42 percent of their estimated budget, according to the College Board. Tuition and fees constituted 39 percent.

Average room-and-board charges at public four-year institutions ranged from $8,376 in the Southwest to $12,050 in the West.

As a percentage of total charges (including tuition and fees), room and board for in-state students range from a low of 48 percent in the Midwest to a high of 57 percent in the West, the College Board found.

Recently I asked readers: Is it time to rethink the idea that staying on campus or in a nearby apartment while attending school is essential?

“On the one hand, lower debt is better,” answered Sue Monahan, dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Western Oregon University. “On the other hand, a number of studies have found that living in campus housing is associated with higher retention (not dropping out) and better academic performance, even controlling for other factors we know affect retention/performance.”

Many others shared Monahan’s concerns.

“Sometimes you need to get out of the house at 18 to change the course of your family’s legacy,” wrote Fuller Ming Jr., assistant director for information technology for the department of dining services at the University of Maryland, who both commuted and lived on campus as a student at the school. “Based on my experience, it is academically necessary to get out of the house.”

Reader Linda Marler of Colfax, Wash., wrote: “Living for at least a year in a residence hall or other community-living residence is important for the social and emotional growth of college students.”

From Steve Brodeur of Woburn, Mass.: “I hate debt as much as the next person, and getting out of school with a 10-to-15-year car payment/mortgage on your diploma is unacceptable. But I feel strongly enough about living at college that I will take out loans myself so that my two kids can live there. My son is going to school less than 10 miles from home, and . . . I’m still stupid enough to borrow to pay his room and board because I value the independent campus experience that much.”

The divide was deep on this issue.

“Living on campus is a nice part of the college experience, but not an essential part,” wrote Norman St. Amour of Harrisburg, Pa. “It is definitely not worth adding to your debt load.”

But if a student stays at home, St. Amour added, don’t suffocate his or her growth. “Parents should remember that commuting is really a wise choice and should treat their college students as young adults and not as high-schoolers.”

Brian Campbell of Frederick, Md., commuted to community college for an associate’s degree and later to Towson University for his bachelor’s.

“From my perspective, there should be more consideration given to the potential return on investment of living away from home,” Campbell wrote. “Many people see ‘going away to college’ as necessary and important in becoming a responsible adult, but I would argue that it often seems that ‘going away to college’ is really the world’s most expensive sleep-away camp.”

Our children know that had my husband and I not saved enough for them to have the luxury of living on campus, they would be commuters.

I get that many students can’t commute because of their family situation, or that there isn’t a reasonably close college or university where they can study in their selected field.

But taking a beat from the Rolling Stones, for those students who could commute rather than accumulating debt to live on campus, shouldn’t we be teaching them that as much as they may want a certain experience, even if there’s benefit to it, you can’t always get what you want?

Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or singletarym@washpost.com. To read more, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.