For years, the decisions of many college students concerning housing choices focused on issues of convenience. Proximity to food services, ease of attending classes, and access to transportation are just some of the items that topped the list. Today’s students, however, are starting to move beyond matters of convenience to consider factors like community, technology, sustainability, and flexibility.
More students than ever — and more diverse
College enrollment is on the rise, but student demographics are changing. The college campus of today and the near future is a much more diverse environment than in the past. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment increased by 32 percent from 2001 to 2011, when it reached an all-time high. After dropping a bit over the past few years, enrollment is projected to increase by another 20 percent through 2023, to 20.2 million students. Female students are projected to outpace male students, and the number of foreign students is expected to increase as well. On top of these changes, a higher percentage of non-traditional students – those who did not enroll immediately after high school — adds another layer of diversity to present-day college campuses.
Students — and many of their parents — continue to want more from the college residential experience. For many students, college is their first experience living away from family and among a larger community of peers. A successful residential community helps students adapt to the college living environment and adjust to the academic demands. It also promotes social interaction.
At Morgan View, the cluster of five residential buildings we designed at Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), we created a 13,000-square-foot student center with exercise, recreation, and technology facilities. For the living spaces, we designed suite-style apartments that include ample space for socialization. This model of housing provides community living environments popular with students, and mixes residential and recreational spaces.
Today’s college students create community and interact with each other in both real and virtual environments, and it’s important to consider both when planning a residential design. Through social media, students are revolutionizing how they interact with friends — and how they create and share information and ideas. Acknowledging this transformation is necessary in meeting the expectations for student housing that facilitates virtual learning, communication, and relationship-building — all critical aspects of a 21st-century college experience.
Today’s college students consume enormous amounts of information and tend to multi-task. Internet speed and mobile phone coverage are of key importance to this group. If these services are lacking, you can be sure disgruntled students will spread the word on social media. Because their academic and social lives are intertwined, technology needs to be intertwined campus-wide. Students expect a universal wireless environment today — what technology will be expected 30 years from now?
Sustainability — economic, environmental, social
Students deserve much of the credit for the focus on sustainability across college campuses. Today’s socially-responsible student is not only concerned about energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact but also on social sustainability and civic engagement. As colleges compete intensely for enrollment, they must consider what environmental goals students expect, and make sure their campuses and student residences reflect those goals.
Flexibility and function
Trends and desires in student housing change over time. Intentional-use spaces such as laundry facilities and student kitchens are found in virtually every residence hall these days, and more than 60 percent of student residences now include classrooms.
Another growing trend in college residences is mixed or multi-use spaces that can be fitted out as areas for music practice, dance studios, or in-hall fitness studios, depending on students’ needs and interests. As my colleague, Faith Nevins, has written about on this blog, designing with health and wellness in mind is a shared priority of many architects and developers, and the companies and institutions for which they design residential and commercial spaces.
When our team designed Erickson Hall, which houses administrative offices and residences for 483 students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, we created suite-style floor plans adjacent to light-filled common areas used for everything from study groups and fitness activities to social gatherings and parties. We also integrated a state-of-the-art computer lab and fitness facilities to meet the demands of modern students.
Also popular in student housing is the concept of living “pods.” These pods feature moveable walls used to create a larger, common living space when open, or a series of smaller, private spaces when closed. This allows students to reconfigure their environment to suit different purposes.
When creating innovative, flexible, and sustainable student housing communities, colleges and universities — along with their architecture partners — need to take the time to know their institution and understand their students’ needs and expectations. There are advantages for both the students and the institution in providing a unique, functional, and technologically-advanced living experience that facilitates the sharing of ideas, contributes to emotional growth, and promotes the development of peer relationships.