Exploring the Back-to-Basics Student Housing Trend

Current student housing trends indicate that more basic, affordable housing is back at the top of demand for value-conscious students.  That’s great news all around, and not simply for the reduction of student debt. Major news outlets like The Atlantic have also conveyed interesting stories on the new trend towards a back-to-basics student housing approach and why it’s catching on from coast to coast. [caption id="attachment_7038" align="alignright" width="900"] Academic Focus. Quiet study nooks with white boards and ample charging spots are the new amenities feature.[/caption]   Construction cost.  During the early 2000’s and recession, campuses enjoyed low interest rates and even lower construction costs.  At the same time, many families discovered that they could purchase devalued and foreclosed homes near campus, for affordable housing and potential returns after their students left college.  Most universities’ construction rush included luxury amenities – such as recreational pools, climbing walls, fitness facilities, and gaming spaces – to attract students back to campus. Today, facility costs per square foot are back on the rise.  Expanding campuses now find that luxe amenities of the last decade simply don’t fit in this year’s construction budget.  Maintenance cost.  Even after the building is complete, it costs more to heat, cool, light, and clean those amenity spaces, too.  Removing superfluous building area reduces its maintenance budget, not just the initial construction cost.  And, of course, amenity spaces are generally non-revenue-generating, so reducing those spaces preserves more of a building’s revenue stream for covering debt service and other fixed expenses. Student Experience.  The newest wave of students is more academically focused than their early-2000s counterparts.  Even in off-campus, student-specific apartments, developers notice that lounges remain empty until they replace the pool and foosball tables with printers, data connections, and large tables for groups to work.  One theory postulates that the newest college-goers are among the first offspring of Generation X, the cynical latchkey kids who still see merit in their college days of Punk and Grunge, and who know the challenge of graduating into a recession with college debt.  They don’t mind putting their students in smaller, more cost-effective rooms. From a design point of view, the trend toward smaller student units allows for more square footage in common areas, encouraging students to leave their rooms and socialize in ways other than Snap Chat. Traditional style efficiency is not just affordable – it builds community, social skills, and grit among its residents. [caption id="attachment_7039" align="alignleft" width="900"] Private Life. Less square footage in both suite and traditional style rooms brings down student rental rates and provides opportunities for developing active common spaces.[/caption]         The Next Generation of Traditional.   While community style housing enjoys a renaissance, it also has a fresh look.  Bathrooms are smaller, to serve banks of four to six rooms at a time.  New designs and new thinking about bathroom layouts include individual shower spaces, with dressing areas and lockable doors, to protect student privacy.   Even community-style bathrooms are getting a fresh look – disaggregating “public functions” around sink areas (e.g., brushing teeth, combing hair), from the private functions of showering and toileting in enclosed stalls.  This approach facilitates community around daily grooming functions while providing all students with the necessary privacy, addressing interests in gender neutral facilities, etc.  Lounge and study spaces are much more prevalent, with a young, contemporary flair to invite students to socialize.  Some facilities intentionally provide stronger wireless signals in public spaces than in student rooms, specifically to encourage activity there.  “Community Kitchens” have evolved into large, lively gathering areas for groups to convene and cook together.  Finally, corridor space itself is construed to allow for gradual interaction, with small areas for apprehensive or shy students to sit and observe larger group activities before joining in. Today’s incoming freshman and their parents are more aware of rising college costs than perhaps ever before. Universities are responding with options that allow students of all means to find comfortable housing solutions—with the pared-down housing (both new and renovation) often becoming the rooms in highest demand on campus.