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10 Innovative Housing Trends in Higher Ed

by Staff Writers

Gone are the days when the most exciting thing about the dorms was a change in the cafeteria menu. These days, college students enjoy state of the art housing facilities, with more privacy, security, and comforts of home than ever before. From pet-friendly dorms to million dollar developments, these trends are making a big difference in the world of higher education housing.

  1. House-like residence halls

    Although most campuses are still rocking the classic campus dorms, many are supplementing their residence halls with new ones that don’t look like dorms at all. In fact, they look more like large homes or villas, and students sure seem to love it. At Sheridan College in Wyoming, for example, new residence halls have brick inlays, wrap-around porches, and even a full kitchen. That’s a stark contrast to shoebox dorm rooms and cafeterias. But perhaps the most glaring difference is that communal bathrooms are virtually nonexistent in these new home dorms, with two students at most typically sharing a bathroom. Students and staff also report that they’re not just pretty, they’re functional: they create a community in which students can interact and study, using common areas like kitchens and living rooms to come together to promote education and camaraderie.

  2. Pet-friendly dorms

    We’ve learned that dogs can be beneficial in the classroom, but how about having a pet in your dorm room? For many students, one of the hardest parts about going to college is leaving behind a beloved pet, but some dorms are doing away with this problem, allowing students to bring everything from hamsters to dogs. At Eckerd College in Florida, certain dorms are designated as "pet dorms," with four different buildings available this year. The school’s major requirements are that the student has lived on campus for at least one semester, and that they live only in a designated pet dorm. Students believe that they can be happier with a furry (or feathered) friend around, but some do worry about the amount of time needed to take care of pets, possibly taking focus away from precious study time. Still, pets can be credited with bringing "new life and energy" to campus dorms, especially if pet related issues are handled properly.

  3. Parent-owned homes

    Real estate is (usually) a good investment, and some money-minded parents are capitalizing on the opportunity to make a home investment while their child is in school. Dorm and other housing costs can make up a significant chunk of any student’s college bill, so instead of living in the dorms or renting an apartment, some parents actually buy their child a house. Crazy? Not really. While their child lives in a home that they own and maintain, they’re able to rent out rooms to other students, presumably friends. In the right situation, these renters can make up the mortgage, insurance, and tax bill, saving you from having to pay for your child’s housing, and maybe even making a little extra in the process. Additionally, you’re investing in a home that will likely appreciate, and may even continue to rent after your child has graduated. Others choose to sell the home upon graduation, and split the profits as a present. Of course, owning and renting a college home does require a large amount of management on your part, as well as responsibility from your child, so while it’s great for some, this idea is not perfect for everyone.

  4. Repurposing other facilities

    Schools are running out of dorm rooms, plain and simple. And for so many campuses, the hard fact is that students have to live somewhere, even if it means off campus apartments and other facilities. Some colleges are even experiencing drops in enrollment as they are unable to find capacity for all of their students to live on or near campus. One school in Kansas, Cowley College, is clearly doing everything they can to make room for new students. They’re turning a vacant nursing home into a dormitory, and although it is off campus, it’s providing plenty of relief for the small school, which slashed their wait list by 75%.

  5. Private developers

    For some schools, growing student housing needs are just too much to keep up with on their own. Often, it’s a question of money, as schools may have seen recent financial losses, but still need to be able to house students. Dorms cost money to build, but if private developers are called in, it’s often students that are footing the bill, not endowments. Community colleges in particular often turn to private developers, as they tend to not have a full residence or facilities department to take care of the growth and daily maintenance of student housing. For these schools, outsourcing means that experts handle student housing issues without additional overhead. Josh Smith, director of real estate development at Collegiate Development Services, sees private development as a positive thing for colleges, especially the University of Louisville in Kentucky: "The university has a strong demand for new housing on campus and will be giving the developer an affiliation agreement where the school markets the project as on-campus student housing, without having to fund the project themselves."

  1. Classroom space in dorms

    What if dorms could make learning an around-the-clock pursuit? At Syracuse University, they’re taking steps to do just that, creating 17 residential learning communities that divide students up by their interests, whether they are based on majors or broad areas of study. In these learning communities are dorms with classroom space, designed with the idea of improving student learning, recruitment, and retention. In other schools, including Temple University and the University of Missouri-Columbia demonstrated higher retention rates from students involved in similar learning communities. In this project, Syracuse hopes to create "close-knit learning communities" and encourage students to spend more time on academics.

  2. Mixed gender housing

    In the past, men and women living together on campus has been frowned upon and forbidden, and overall, most college campuses still have gendered dorms. However, with older students and higher maturity levels, some colleges are recognizing that men and women can in fact live together in the dorms. Janet Dickerson, vice president of student life at Princeton shares her opinion on mixed-gender housing, offering that the university’s mixed-gender housing project "will allow upper-class students to explore a full range of housing options in a collegial atmosphere, whether they decide to live on or off campus. The choices also reflect the same options that our students will face as young adults when they graduate." Princeton is not alone: Wesleyan College, Oberlin College, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins all offer some sort of mixed-gender student housing. In fact, every Ivy League university except Yale has made mixed-gender options available to students. Students have responded positively to the offering, and appreciate that "it gives students the opportunity to live and be treated like adults."

  3. State-of-the-art security

    Dorm room locks are a necessity, but with older residences with standard lock and key access, housing departments can find themselves reissuing keys more often than they’d like. Departments have also found that master keys present a serious security problem: if a master key to the building is lost, you have to re-key the whole building. At Mississippi State University, dorm locks have gone wireless, and now work with the school’s card access system that includes vending and copy machines, as well as point of service sales. A really cool feature sounds like something out of the movies: data is sent to an online system that reports in real-time, so information about who accessed a dorm room when is right at the department’s fingertips.

  4. Ecodorms

    Colleges all over the country are implementing ecologically-friendly changes in their dorms, typically with low-flow shower heads and toilets, high efficiency washing machines, and compact fluorescent light bulbs. On such a large scale, these small changes can add up to a big difference. But some schools are taking things even farther, like Warren Wilson College with its EcoDorm, which was the first LEED Platinum dorm in the country. This 36-bed dorm implements permaculture with native and drought resistant plants, as well as edible plants. Rainwater collection and distribution is used, as well as sharing, light pollution reduction, reflective roofing, and conservation throughout the dorm. Through innovation, Warren Wilson’s dorm is able to consume nearly two-thirds less electricity than a conventional building of the same size.

  5. Super luxury dorms

    For most students, dorms aren’t much more than a large closet, but some families are willing to shell out big bucks for their kids to live in style while they’re in college. At the University of Michigan, Zaragon Place offers fully furnished apartments with plenty of amenities, including black leather couches, flat screen TVs, washing machines and dryers, as well as a 24/7 gym and underground parking. This property in particular has a huge wait list, and is working on a new complex to accommodate additional students. Other properties boast amenities including tanning beds, sound-proof music rooms, movie theaters, pools, and even basketballs courts. Developers believe that students respond well to the luxury amenities and apartment-style living, with high end student housing often acting as a stepping stone between dorm life and the apartment living students will experience soon after graduation.