P3 partnerships: Bringing students back on campus (part 1)

With decades of experience designing student living environments, we have had the opportunity to observe the evolution in student preferences, as well as changing institutional focus in fostering on-campus community engagement. There are few trends that can be universally applied across campuses that meet the needs of both the student body’s wish list and school strategies. The key, it seems, is an inevitable increase in partnerships between higher education institutions and student housing developers. Welcome the Public Private Partnership (P3).

What students want

In the last 15 years, we have seen the impact of off-campus, privately developed student housing. Developers are fast to market, lower cost, and provide extremely sophisticated lifestyle-focused environments that exceed the demand of students who want more private rooms and innovative amenities. In fact, they run circles around most universities when it comes to meeting housing demands, deadlines, budgets, and facility management. They know who their audience is and deliver exactly what residents want.

So, what exactly is it that today’s “college kids” are looking for when it comes to housing? It’s more than a cinder block room with one window and potential for a mini-fridge and a microwave. It’s a lifestyle; an experience.

In our interactions with off-campus students and through partner developer data, we have learned the following key re-occurring themes about student expectations when it comes to housing:

  • More living options: Students are not against living in university-owned campus housing, but the options are limited (a common theme at state institutions across the country with vintage 1960s housing stock).
  • Proximity to on-campus and off-campus activities: Students want to live close to campus and local entertainment and employment options, so they don’t have to rely on a car. In fact, parents often justify higher rents by not sending their children to school with a car.
  • Cooking for themselves: Today’s students are extremely conscious about their diets and want to grocery shop and prepare their own meals—not to mention the added cost savings this option provides as compared to today’s typical university meal plans.
  • Privacy and quietness: Students want more private bathroom accommodations, and many desire not having roommates at all via one-bed or studio options.
  • Self-directed social experiences and communities: Social aspects are important and amenities like on-site rooftop swimming pools, ground floor retail and restaurants, in-building fitness centers, and less strict regulations are attractive.
  • Parental buy-in: Today’s parents can’t stand the thought of their kids living in 50-year-old dormitory buildings that occupy the landscape of the U.S. higher education campuses.

How are institutions addressing these needs? There is no clear-cut set of answers, but universities that have started taking note of evolving student wants are asking questions like, “Who owns student living?” and “How are student housing needs best met?”

In Part 2, we’ll touch on the benefits of institution-based housing, what schools see as successful lifestyle experiences, and dive deeper into the P3 partnership diagram that considers student, institution, and private developer requirements and expertise to set a new direction for college life.