Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Trends in Student Housing: Process and Product

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Trends in Student Housing: Process and Product

Article excerpt

What is the optimal planning research that an institution should undertake to inform its physical and residential-life programs? What are current trends?


A number of factors have influenced the pace and quantity of residential construction and renovation on college and university campuses. The full-time undergraduate student population in degree-granting institutions grew 45 percent nationwide (National Center for Education Statistics 2011) during the 2000s at the same time that much college housing reached the end of its functional life. [1]

Undergraduate college culture has also begun to change, in that colleges are now seeking to increase the number of students living on campus in order to promote a sense of community and to foster collaboration among students and with faculty (and, sometimes, to appease the residents of neighborhoods around campus who do not want undergraduates as their neighbors). Some upperclass students who previously preferred off-campus housing now prefer the convenience of on-campus living as long as it can provide them with privacy and independence at an affordable price. A variety of research studies, including our own, has shown that it is a competitive advantage for schools to provide quality housing for a significant portion of their students, as housing availability and options have been shown to play a role in students' (and their families') admissions decisions.

Housing availability and options have been shown to play a role in students' admissions decisions.

In providing research, data, and analysis related to college housing strategy over the past 10 years, we have observed that colleges' reasons for providing housing have evolved and deepened and that students' needs and preferences have also changed. In preparation for renovation or new construction, we have worked with college housing professionals and architects to spearhead a thoughtful process of documenting both physical and residential-life program needs. In this article, we discuss the essential steps in a data-driven exploration process. Then, based on our conversations with public and private college housing professionals and architects, we present some of the college housing trends that they have observed or generated.



A data-driven strategic housing process always begins with stakeholders defining the core issues related to why residential construction or renovation is needed. There may be multiple goals involved, such as a facilities goal of bringing buildings up to code, an admissions goal of providing housing that is competitive with peer housing, or a student-life goal of providing increasingly independent housing options from class year to class year. It is important that all stakeholders share an understanding of the project's mission and goals, including project constraints, challenges, and opportunities; any numeric goals to provide a certain number of beds or to house a certain percentage of students; and the importance of housing in aiding recruitment, assisting with retention, and creating community. Another important question concerns whether there are priority populations who would benefit most from housing, such as first-year students, upperclass students, students in specific schools, or international students.

We recommend an interview process with stakeholders to give each of them an opportunity to express their opinions on a set list of issues, followed by a rigorous comparing and contrasting of their comments.


Reviewing existing data will help the planning team refine its goals and priorities. From a facilities point of view, it is important to conduct a building inventory and assessment. Then, an intensive analysis of student demographics can help the team understand exactly which groups are currently living in school housing or off campus. …

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