Housing is the linchpin upon which debt at Sonoma State University turns.
It accounts for the largest slice, 56 percent — $125 million — of the university's $223 million debt.
Last year, SSU's housing program generated $18.4 million in revenue. Of that, $8 million went toward the university's $10.4 million debt service.
By comparison, SSU's parking program, which brought in $1.8 million, contributed $628,173 to debt service last year.
Since 2000, SSU has built apartments to accommodate 2,249 more students. And that housing paved the way to most of SSU's other debt-financed projects.
"We're not in Berkeley, in Chico, in Westwood, and as much as I love Rohnert Park, it's not exactly a robust collegiate environment," said SSU's chief financial officer, Larry Furukawa-Schlereth.
"The students are clamoring to have places to do stuff, to hang out," he said.
To meet that demand, SSU in 2004 opened a $15 million recreation center. Now, construction has started on a $60.5 million student center set to open in 2013.
Each was an element in SSU President Ruben Armi?na's long-articulated goal of turning SSU into an elite public liberal arts university.
Student elections approved new fees to finance both projects.