Housing options for today's college students are changing dramatically. As an estimated 80 million "Echo Boomers" continue to swamp on-campus housing, off-campus living has become not just an option but a necessity. This increased demand for student-friendly communities near campuses has generated new trends in housing development and student lifestyles.
When Baby Boomers went to college, living on campus was often part of their experience. It gave them a chance to adapt to the area, culture and campus, and was a great way to meet new people. Although it was a bit more expensive and less private than living off campus, the proximity to classes and work study, community living and convenient campus services suited the low-budget student lifestyle well -- and the added benefit of security and basic supervision reassured nervous parents.
As their children now head off to college, these benefits still hold true, but a whole new standard has been raised for both on-campus and off-campus living. Baby Boomers tended to have smaller families with more disposable income, which in turn has created a generation of selective young "echo-boomers" who expect more privacy and amenities in their living space. The National Center for Education Statistics says college enrollment will grow by at least 10% by 2016, and an average of almost 70 percent of college students rely on on-campus housing. Likely to be the most highly-educated demographic in America, these students have more disposable income than ever, and have much higher expectations than their parents. Yet they continue to expect on-campus housing to be available.
Meanwhile universities simply don't have the money to create the additional housing needed to supply the demand. Yet they need to be able to compete for the tuition of today's students, who rate living environment and housing options as one of the top priorities in affecting their decision regarding which college to attend. Traditional housing types were dormitory-style units that offered small, shared living spaces and communal bathrooms with little or no privacy. Because of this, college "living and learning" programs have suffered as crowds of newly-accepted students arrive, take one look at the quality and quantity of outdated dormitories, and head off-campus.
Many colleges are creating new residential facilities to attract and retain students, have added inventive amenities designed to extend the educational experience outside the classroom, and are slowly transitioning to more comfortable living quarters such as up-scale, apartment-style suites. However, these on-campus options are most likely going to be reserved for freshman students, as many campuses require that they live on campus their first year. So that means that many sophomores, juniors and seniors will be looking for off-campus housing.
According to a research report published by the NMHC titled "What Do Students Want?", today's students are more interested in living off campus, and have much higher expectations for their housing. In the study, which included focus groups with students at nine universities, students considered the following to be most important about their living space:
“Today’s students prefer off-campus student housing to dorm life for a variety of reasons, such as cost, freedom and more space,” said National Multi Housing Council Senior Vice President Jim Arbury, “but they appear to be most interested in the social opportunities these properties enable and encourage and the opportunity to be on their own for the first time.”
The study revealed these students were just as concerned about: being treated well as renters as they are with having a comfortable and fun living space. As most college campuses are localized markets, and there are typically two or three property management firms that specialize in renting apartments to students, housing plans, costs and customer service are somewhat standardized - sometimes beneficially, sometimes not.
As an alternative, many parents and students are taking advantage of today's buyer's market and purchasing single family homes for conversion into multifamily homes. Investing in condos, townhomes and multi-family homes can circumvent rising rental rates (rents for student-housing properties rose more rapidly than traditional multi-family in 2007), and student housing investments tend to be "recession resistant", as college populations soar in both good and bad economic times.