Rethinking the On-Campus Student Apartment

Apartment-style student housing has been on campuses for decades, but has often occupied a small niche in a school’s inventory.  Often relegated to married students, or graduate students, many on-campus apartments were barely a notch in quality above traditional, freshman-level housing. Now, as schools expand their inventories to keep more upper-division students on campus, apartments are enjoying a renaissance.  Research indicates that a considerable number of students do enjoy the convenience, safety, and affordability of living on campus.  Moreover, a furnished unit -- with utilities included in a nine-month contract -- is attractive to a young adult short on funds. For those students with families, on-campus apartments could be the difference between completing their degrees or dropping out of school.  “I couldn’t stay in college without my apartment here,” declared a single parent recently at Texas Woman’s University.  “There’s no way I could even make rent on a place that’s safe enough for a small child.”  Some campuses notice a dearth of quality, affordable housing in their local off-campus markets, and a practice of exploiting desperate students, especially international students who might arrive in town just days before classes begin. Even for upper-division undergraduates, apartments are attractive – especially when the units remain affordable, and when the communities retain some of the features and gathering spaces they appreciated in their freshman halls.  UT Dallas’s newest Canyon Creek community provides two and four-bedroom units in a range of price points, and includes space at every level for study and socialization. Gathering space outside the apartment unit is an important factor in building community.  Common study spaces provide a neutral, safe place for students to meet and interact without bringing casual acquaintances into their dwelling space or entering others’ units. And outdoor areas—from fire pits and gas grills to volleyball courts and hammock hangouts–are key to making the apartments feel like a community. Proximity to the university is often the best amenity of all, which means upperclassmen are more and more willing to stay on campus. Universities who discover the right mix of unit types and amenities at the right price point will have a waiting list on their hands.