Housing Survey

Campus Housing: Expectations vs. Reality

Campus Housing Survey


As we do each year, College Planning & Management recently surveyed college and university housing administrators to find out what challenges they are facing, the state of their facilities and what improvements they would like to see in their residential life programs and buildings. Here are some results from that survey.


Big ones. They want it all. “It” being privacy; convenience; lots of space; cutting-edge technology (and the very best WiFi); cable TV; their own kitchens, laundry facilities and bathrooms; comfortable, quality furniture; close access to food service; air conditioning; a rec center; attentive housing staff; and their own parking space… right outside the door. And they want this “resort experience” at an affordable price.

As Mick Jagger and his bandmates reminded us long before today’s students were in this world, however: you can’t always get what you want.

Campus Housing Survey


When College Planning & Management asked campus housing directors and administrators the question concerning what expectations students have for housing, the dissonance between the list of students’ desired amenities and what housing directors are currently able to provide or are focused on providing — a sufficient number of beds, roofs that don’t leak, mechanical system upgrades (HVAC, lighting, etc.), remodeled bathrooms, life-safety additions/upgrades, etc. — was substantial.

When asked to rate the impact several issues will have on housing at their institutions in the next three to five years, over half of survey respondents (53 percent) indicated that aging facilities would have a profound impact. The next frequently mentioned item on the list of profound impact issues was deferred maintenance (35 percent of respondents), followed closely by lack of adequate funds (34 percent). Housing programs that are walking a narrow line between keeping their current building stock functional, comfortable and safe and student expectations for something akin to the good life on campus are probably not ready to offer students high-end amenities.

With that observation made, what do our survey respondents have to say about the state of their campus housing stock, as well as the students living within it?

Space. Too Much? Too Little? Just Enough?

Campus Housing Survey


Depending on where you look for statistics, the number of students enrolling in colleges or universities is increasing, decreasing or remaining about the same. The growth of online learning, although slowing somewhat, is allowing students — both traditional and nontraditional — to learn from where they currently live, with no need to travel to or reside on a college or university campus. Regardless of those trends, campus housing remains a marketing tool for institutions looking to draw students to and keep them on campus. Schools need to offer sufficient beds and accompanying amenities. Too much real estate tied up in residence halls that are under-occupied is a drain on budgets and resources, but not having sufficient space for potential and current students might cause those students to move along to an institution that can meet their desires as well as their needs. Are there sufficient beds available today?

When CP&M surveyed housing administrators last year, 54 percent of respondents indicated they have sufficient space, 38 percent indicated too little and 8 percent indicated they have too much, resulting in unfilled beds. This year, the number of respondents indicating they have sufficient space has risen to 60 percent; 32 percent indicated they have too little (a 6 percent drop) and again, only 8 percent say they have too much.

Campus Housing Survey


Up 8 percent from last year, 88 percent said they are not planning to add any new residence halls to campus in 2017-2018; 12 percent said they are. Of those 12 percent adding to their stock, 63 percent are doing so to increase the number of beds available. Thirty-eight percent are replacing existing facilities. And over one-third of them (38 percent) intend for these new facilities to improve their school’s marketability/help with recruiting new students, and also to keep current students living on campus. Perhaps aligned with this goal, 13 percent are building these facilities to create specialized living/learning communities (for first-generation students, or family housing space, to cluster students who are enrolled in similar programs together, etc.).

Jordan Gatewood, AIA, LEED-BD+C, senior associate for Mackey Mitchell Architects in St. Louis, sees this trend in creating a sense of community, as well as a concern for all-around health and wellness, for residential students.

Campus Housing Survey


“Institutions are increasingly interested in building spaces which promote living learning community,” he says. “Writable surfaces are everywhere as are tech-enabled rooms for small group study. Institutions are all looking at the issue of health and wellness which translates in different ways on individual campuses. Offices for counselors, small fitness rooms (typically cardio equipment), meditation rooms, community kitchens where dietitians can interact with students are all examples of spaces we are designing to promote wellness in residence halls.”

CP&M did not ask a question this year concerning who is developing, building, and funding new residence halls — the school itself, a private developer or a public-private (P3) partnership. For most, funding new residence halls is a prime concern, however, with one survey respondent observing that the issue of most concern is that “developer P3 construction projects are necessitated.”

Gatewood sees that as well.

“P3 delivery is gaining more traction as an option for institutions that may otherwise not be able to afford to build new housing,” he confirms. “As states like Georgia adopt and deploy P3 delivery at a system-wide level it will inevitably increase the amount of P3 projects.”

Campus Housing Survey


Maintaining What’s in Place

Where new facilities are not in progress, the looming specter of deferred maintenance, along with routine maintenance, renovations and upgrades are keeping housing administrators busy. In 2016, 51 percent of survey respondents indicated that they had renovations in progress, while 17 percent had renovations on hold due to budget constraints. Last year, just about one-third of respondents had no major renovations planned.

In 2017, the percentage who responded that they currently have renovations underway dropped to 44 percent. The number with projects on hold due to budget constraints rose just one point, to 18 percent, while 38 percent have no major renovations/upgrades planned.

That number of facilities being renovated rather than being built from scratch is confirmed Gatewood. When asked if his firm is seeing more new construction or renovation of existing building stock, he says, “We have seen a fairly equal split between new and renovated facilities. Many institutions are conducting housing master plans in order to evaluate renovation and new construction scenarios. Strategic decision making is critical as construction costs continue to increase and schools try to keep on campus housing affordable.”

Campus Housing Survey

Table 1 indicates the types of renovations or upgrades that are underway or planned for the next three to five years. A full 96 percent of respondents indicate that general maintenance, painting and repair are on the agenda. That is comparable to last year, when 94 percent had general maintenance tasks underway. Seventy percent of respondents say carpeting and flooring replacement are necessary or in the works, a drop from last year’s 84 percent, and almost 72 percent are planning or are undertaking furniture and fixtures replacement (last year it was 75 percent). The general consensus is that students are often hard on housing; keeping up appearances with general/routine maintenance of walls, floors, furniture and fixtures is a vital minimum to keep residence hall spaces functional and appealing to new and returning occupants.

What’s in a Residence Hall? What Should Be?

As noted, it seems that many students (and their parents) expect a “home away from home” experience in campus living, or even “resort living away from home.” With that said, there is no ideal, “one size fits all” cookie-cutter format for a residence hall. There are, however, common and/or popular amenities that are included or desired across the board.

In 2016, 93 percent of respondents indicated that their residence hall spaces included central laundry facilities. This year, that number rose to 98 percent. In 2016, 49 percent indicated the existence of full-service central kitchens; this year that dropped slightly to 44 percent. In the spirit of students wanting their own version of amenities, in 2016, survey respondents indicated that 29 percent of residence hall spaces do or will include kitchens in rooms. In 2017, that number rose sharply, to 47 percent.

Dining halls within a residential facility? In 2016, 37 percent responded in the affirmative. That number dropped slightly this year, to 35 percent. Perhaps the increase of private kitchen facilities (we will assume within suites of rooms) is eliminating the need for central dining facilities.

Campus Housing SurveyDespite our survey respondents’ indication of a shift towards kitchens within rooms, Mackey Mitchell’s Gatewood is still seeing the central kitchen as a desired element. It seems a “foodie” culture is taking root.

“Today’s students are much more engaged and interested in food than previous generations have been,” he says. “Couple that with increasing international student enrollment and a community kitchen is now an important component of building community in the residence hall. Community kitchens provide opportunities for students to cook together, campus dietitians can conduct educational programs about healthy eating and cooking, and international students are able to cook native cuisine for themselves and introduce hall mates to food from different cultures. Many of the community kitchens we have designed recently include two of each appliance to satisfy demand and provide opportunity for ‘iron chef’ type cooking matches between students.”

Coffee shops within residence halls? In 2016, only 10 percent indicated they were or would be included. That number rose to 16 percent in 2017.

Classroom spaces were indicated for 32 percent of facilities in 2016; that number remains steady in 2017, at 33 percent.

Inspired by current, sometimes acrimonious discussion, CP&M asked if campus residence halls do or will include genderneutral housing. Almost half, 49 percent, indicated they do or will; and gender-neutral restrooms — over half, 51 percent, do or will.

Gatewood sees this evolution from the design end.

“Campus housing continues to be impacted by the legislation and discussion surrounding issues of transgender and gender-neutral accommodations,” he observes. “Largely, institutions of higher education have been ahead of the curve on addressing these issues in new and renovated facilities. Architects are increasingly challenged to create safe, equitable living environments on college campuses. Engaging all users of the facility in the design process rather than relying on assumptions helps ensure everyone’s needs for privacy and security are being met to the greatest extent possible.”

Looking Forward, What Are the Concerns?

Campus Housing SurveyThe eyes of housing directors remain firmly focused on budget.

When asked to rate the impact of a number of issues on housing at their institutions in the next three to five years, the five issues ranked as having the most profound impact were aging facilities, deferred maintenance, lack of adequate funds, need for upgraded/modernized facilities and student/parent expectations… which is exactly the same as 2016’s top five. And as last year, except perhaps for student/parent expectations, the top four are directly related to financial considerations.

From the same question, the five items most often cited as not having any noticeable impact for the next three to five years are overcrowding, keeping beds filled, staffing issues, staying competitive with off-campus housing and security concerns.

It Comes Down to the Students

Once the physical needs of shelter and safety are met — as close to student expectations as possible, knowing that the wishlist will almost always exceed availability — we asked our survey respondents what is the one issue that concerns them most right now, and why.

Costs, funding and condition of facilities top the list. Competition with off-campus facilities concerns some. Cited more frequently through the years of compiling these surveys however, is the answer “mental health.”

“Mental health. Students are very fragile, requiring increasing amounts of staff time,” one respondent notes. “Civility and mental health,” says another. “Mental health issues,” agree several more.

“Mental health issues have been on the rise for the past 10 years, and it is a challenge for on-campus counseling centers to keep up with the demand,” opines one survey respondent. “There is this perception that college students are babied and coddled, and at times, this is not wrong. There is an apex where care falls from enough to too much… and I wonder if we have fallen over to that side, as a field. There should be safe feelings on campus, but at what cost? To assist people from overcoming adversity or to make it where ‘bad things’ don’t even exist on a campus. I am afraid when we send students out into the ‘real world’ and they are faced with hate, discrimination, ideas they find offensive, etc., that they won’t know how to handle them appropriately; I am afraid they will either shatter internally or go on the offensive.”

Tangential to concern over student mental health is a new response to CP&M’s question on current concerns this year: “Comfort pets,” and “emotional support animals.”

“Kansas law allowing guns on campus,” states another.

And along those lines of the student experience, what is the biggest change housing experts have seen in their residence halls in the last five years?

The demand for amenities clearly tops the list. With the word “demand” being key.

“The desire for more private spaces and additional amenities.” “There is a stark difference between our older residence halls and new residence halls. Students are also asking for more private amenities — such as laundry within rooms, more kitchens.” “The demand for services. Parents who go to the top immediately if they feel their own personal expectations are not being met for their son or daughter.” “Demand to be closer to dining choices, classrooms, rec center.” “Demand for private rooms.” “It’s very hard to keep up with the demands of incoming students and their parents,” responds one. “It is always a balancing act between facility management and program management.”

Campus Housing Survey


A few mentioned increased use of marijuana as the biggest change noted, while another noted a “decrease in alcohol use and increase in drug use.” Gender identity issues received two mentions.

Campus housing directors are on the front lines, working out the balance between student/parent wants and needs; residents’ safety and security; institutional budgets; what can be accomplished realistically and what cannot; and keeping existing facilities up and running, attractive and functional. In the face of the ongoing challenges, they’re succeeding. “[Residence life on our campus is] very much improving and more attractive to incoming students, observes a respondent.

CP&M would like to thank the housing directors who responded to our 2017 survey. The survey data was collected from 50 colleges and universities (45 four-year, five two-year; 31 public, 17 nonprofit, two for-profit) representing 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A total of 993 residential facilities are located on the campuses of and/or or managed by the respondents.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .