College Housing 2007

Costs Are Rising

The median residence hall completed in the last year cost more than $20M (see Table 1), with projects ranging from a low of slightly more than $2.5M to one reported at better than $230M. By using medians rather than averages, the survey flattens out the tops and bottoms and provides a figure closer to what might be considered“normal.”

The median cost per square foot among the 43 reported projects was $207.29 — almost 20 percent higher than a year ago (see Graph A). It should be kept in mind, however, that there is no control in these numbers for the location of residence halls or the institutions constructing them. Thus, it is possible (but not likely) that there has been a preponderance of residence halls reported from higher-cost segments of the nation this year as compared to a year ago.

The median cost per bed is also up (Graph B), reaching $62,756 this year, an 11 percent increase over last year. By contrast, as recently as 2000, the reported median cost of a residence hall bed was under $25,000. Cost per bed is calculated by dividing total project cost by number of student beds provided. Some of the lower-cost projects provided little other than bedrooms; others included kitchens, computer centers, fitness centers, and classrooms within the residence hall space.

While costs are up, the space provided per bed (Graph C) has fallen slightly to just 332 sq. ft. per bed (again, calculated on the basis of total space in the project). A year ago the median was 339 sq. ft. per bed, and the year before that, 346. It appears that, with costs rising, some colleges may be rethinking the amount of space they provide per room or the amount of auxiliary space they include in the project.

Interestingly, through the course of the last two years the median size of the residence hall projects has fallen. In 2005, the median residence hall was designed to hold better than 450 students. Last year the median was 357 and this year it is 358. Residence hall directors have indicated during the past few years that they think that residence halls have gotten too big; perhaps their concerns are influencing current planning.

Size Differences

Looking at residence hall size, last year for the first time we examined differences among residence halls that we considered relatively small (fewer than 200 students), relatively large (more than 500 students), and those that fell in the middle (201 to 500 students). Because the samples become quite small, it is wise to take these numbers with a grain of salt, but they do show some interesting differences.

The median residence hall among the smaller projects provided just 79 beds and, overall, 324 sq. ft. per bed. The median project contained 23,350 sq. ft. and the cost per square foot was just over $200, significantly less than the costs of the larger residences.

By contrast, the large residence halls provided a median of 680 beds and the overall project provided 336 sq. ft. for each student housed. The cost per square foot for these larger projects was more than $232, meaning that the larger projects were paying a 16 percent premium compared to the smaller ones.

The middle group, with 201 to 500 students, provided 350 beds with just 321 sq. ft. overall per bed. The cost per square foot was $207.29.

Amenities Provided

Perhaps the added costs for the larger projects are the result of providing more amenities. Table 2 looks at what was provided in the median residence hall and in the halls of differing sizes.

One significant difference is in the area of security. All of the larger projects provided card access both to the buildings and to resident rooms. Three-quarters of them included external video surveillance, and more than half reported internal video surveillance. Card access to buildings was the rule in a large majority of projects of all sizes, but only one-quarter of the small residence halls and less than half the middle group provided card access to individual rooms. Internal video surveillance was available in almost half of all projects but external surveillance was not, with less than one-quarter of the smaller projects using these systems.

Larger projects did not spend more dollars on room comfort. Fewer of them provided air conditioning and carpeting in residence rooms than did the smaller projects. Vending is available in two-thirds of small projects and almost all medium ones. But less than one-quarter of the larger projects make them available. On the other hand, all of the larger projects provided ATM machines. They were not in any of the small residence halls, and were in only 11 percent of the medium-sized projects.

It was surprising to find that, while 92 percent of large residence halls provided computer centers, they were entirely absent from the smaller projects. (Most of the smaller projects report study rooms to which, presumably, residents can bring their own laptops.)

On the other side, we expected all residence halls to provide laundry rooms. The smaller projects did, but less than 40 percent of the large ones reported laundry facilities. Kitchens, too, were in virtually all the small projects but in fewer than half the larger ones. On the other hand, fitness centers were reported in seven of ten large projects but are virtually nonexistent in smaller ones.

It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from these differences, but it does appear that the large residence halls tend to emulate hotel accommodations with card key access, fitness centers, ATM machines, and computer centers (akin to a hotel business center). The smaller ones appear more oriented to individual students with laundry rooms, kitchens, room air conditioning, and study halls. The differences among large and small residence halls and the advantages of each might make for an interesting conversation at some future convention.

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for College Planning & Management and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facility consulting firm based in Harrison, NY. He is co-author of Space Planning for Institutions of Higher Education. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for SP&M and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facilities consulting firm based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was named CEPFI’s 2008 "Planner of the Year."