Student Housing on College Campuses

Student housing has changed dramatically on college campuses. Slowly at first, with larger campuses introducing new living arrangements that mirror today’s diverse society, requiring laptops, and adopting universal Wi-Fi, and more rapidly in recent years as advancing technology has transformed the way we live, work, play, and communicate.

Commonly abbreviated to Gen Z, Generation Z (or the iGeneration) follows Millennials onto college campuses. This generation brings with them a unique set of expectations and experiences, having been influenced by widespread usage of mobile devices and modern technology from a young age. With major influences ranging from social media sites and apps to widespread discussion about green design and the environment, these students arrive at college with a different set of privacy boundaries and lifestyle preferences than any generation before.

Institutions of higher education are challenged by the need to create residential facilities that support recruitment and retention of high caliber students, facilitate socialization and engagement, and provide a foundation for academic success. We see the following trends influencing student housing on college campuses today and into the future.

Privacy is becoming a highly sought after amenity, with the majority of freshmen coming to campus never having shared a bedroom. Students want to choose how and when they socialize, and while the shared room is unlikely to completely disappear, colleges and universities are increasingly including a range of privacy levels from the number of students to a room to the number of students sharing a bathroom. Today, communal bathrooms are rare in new residence halls. Much more typical is the suite layout, with two students sharing a bathroom. In Penn State’s new Chace Hall, “spa bathrooms” with private toilet and shower areas were provided to maximize student comfort.

Take Clemson’s Douthit Hills Student Community, currently under construction and slated to open in 2017. This walkable, amenity-filled community more closely resembles an urban, mixed-use apartment complex than what we once called a dormitory. Today’s college students embrace housing facilities that are lively, engaging, state-of-the-art, and sustainable. On-campus amenities look more and more like off-campus amenities to appeal to students, featuring outdoor pools, in-suite laundry, and hip coffee shops. Whether it’s the amenities or plentiful, varied spaces for entertainment and study, this trend is reflective of the importance of choice to these students.

The concept of the living-learning environment has taken hold and can range widely, customized to suit unique campuses and student populations. Studies are showing that informal settings are better for college-level learning than the traditional academic setting alone, driving growing interest in a trend we have been presenting to clients since 2007. These communities may range from a true, mixed use development with classrooms and residential units for both students and faculty in the same building, or by infusing collaborative study areas throughout a predominantly residential building to provide students with easily accessible study amenities. In the case of the new West Grace & West Broad Residence Complex at Virginia Commonwealth University, the living-learning environment is shaped to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship driven by its Collaborative Incubator. The live-and-learn community model fosters higher levels of academic engagement and success and enhances the undergraduate experience, aiding in recruitment and retention.

Colleges and universities create common spaces with specific objectives in mind: to encourage social engagement, improve retention, help students build relationships and make new connections, and ultimately foster academic success. Precious spaces within a residence hall, common areas have to be flexible and desirable – students must want to visit them. To encourage this, design concepts feature lounges, study spaces, kitchens, and laundries that are equipped with comfortable furniture that can be easily reconfigured or moved to accommodate different types of events, both impromptu and planned. Green screens, pool and ping pong tables, maker spaces, innovation incubators, and faculty-in-residence all indicate that today’s college housing differs drastically from the mid-twentieth century residences that many schools must now replace or renovate.

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