Purdue Students Prefer to Go Solo

Throughout its 10-year master plan, Purdue University Residences has invested almost $200M to upgrade its housing stock that, on average, dates to the LBJ years.
But even providing central air conditioning and free WiFi access to most of the nearly 12,000 residents on the West Lafayette, IN, campus can’t stifle millennial students' newest expectation — privacy.
“At home they had their own room, often with their own bathroom, and almost always with their own TV, own cable, own DVD and CD players, own phone, and own computer,” said John A. Sautter, Purdue vice president for housing and food services, who oversees Purdue University Residences. “They expect it here, and we have to accommodate that.”
Providing Privacy and Panache
Purdue University Residences is providing the privacy option with a new 365-bed, two-building, 163,000-sq.-ft. complex at the center of campus that provides each student with a private bedroom and bathroom. When the new residence hall opens in 2009, Purdue will join fellow Big Ten university Penn State, Stanford University, and a few others that offer this type of space in large quantities.

Ratio Architects Inc. of Indianapolis designed each floor in Purdue’s fourteenth residence hall so that 22 resident rooms cluster around a single commons room equipped with modern furniture and a large, flat-screen television. A dinette attached to the commons room features a sink, microwave oven, and a peninsular coffee bar with stools. Each floor also will have its own study lounge and laundry room. In place of cinderblock, commercial-strength linoleum and Naugahyde, the hall incorporates a rich materials list that includes hardwoods, brushed nickel, carpet, and tile.
Bedroom furniture is designed to be reconfigured to each resident’s taste. Room rates include cable TV, utilities, broadband Internet, and landline phone service. A phone will be provided in the commons area of each cluster, but Purdue will no longer provide student room phones since today’s students consistently stow standard-issue phones and replace them with ones of their own choosing, or rely completely on their ubiquitous cell phones.

The new singles will be open to any student, but priority will be given to students who are already in other residence halls and based on how many semesters they have already lived in University Residences.
Freshmen Need Friends
The new hall’s general manager, Thomas Paczolt, said the single-resident-room-only concept is a good transition for students who have already established a social network on campus. He expects most residents will be junior and senior undergraduates.

He said the more traditional shared bedrooms and bathrooms in existing residence halls will continue to serve freshmen well by compelling them to interact and make friends — whether they want to or not.

“We have freshmen who frequently interact with their roommates via instant messaging and Facebook, so we don’t want to give them a private cave into which they might further retreat from interpersonal relationships,” Paczolt said. “A lot of the friendships made in college are made with people with whom you have to share a lavatory sink or remote control.”

Sautter said the hall’s combination of private bedrooms with communal living and study spaces might prove a perfect home to Purdue’s “learning communities.” In that program, entire floors of a residence hall are devoted to students who are in the same major.

“This space configuration is available nowhere else on- or off-campus,” Sautter said. “Being an educator as well as a housing administrator, I thought it was paramount that we offer this value-added lifestyle choice.”

Most off-campus housing at Purdue is multi-bedroom apartments that may or may not offer each student a private room. The newest off-campus building offers private one-bedroom accommodations but costs up to $1,000 per month and doesn't offer a meal plan or resident-assistant-designed social and educational programs.
Replacing Lost Beds

With nearly 12,000 residents, Purdue University Residences is the largest on-campus housing system in the nation in which participation is voluntary for all residents. That means a lot of beds are needed.

The 365 new beds will help replace the hundreds lost to demolition to make way for Purdue’s ongoing construction of new research facilities. For the past five years, University Residences has been forced to place some students in temporary housing, including converted study lounges or rooms in the university hotel. Most of these students are moved into conventional rooms before football season concludes.

Barbara Frazee, executive director of University Residences, said a system that runs at annual average occupancy of nearly 98 percent needs more spaces.

“The new rooms will buy us some breathing room initially,” Frazee said. “But I also expect the popularity of this new upgrade option will boost our annual renewal rate and keep more students on campus for more of their undergraduate years.

“Our job is to anticipate and respond to what the students, or customers, want and need," she said. "Students choose to live with us because we are providing options and services that augment their entire Purdue experience."
No Turning Back
Housing and Food Services sought the input of thousands of students before committing to the $52M project, which will be paid for entirely by user fees. Sautter said the self-supporting division could not proceed without being sure it was on the right track.

“We build these things to last at least 50 years, and we can’t just sell them off if we miscalculate the marketing demographics,” he said.

To craft a second master plan for University Residences, Sautter has hired the same consultant that the University is using to create a campuswide master plan.

“We’ve designed this new hall to be expandable, but preliminary indications are that we will have to build more residence halls to meet demand, much of which is for single-room housing,” Sautter said. “We’re the nation's largest on-campus housing system in which every student, including freshmen, lives here voluntarily. We listen to our customers.”

Jim Schenke is a writer and publicist for Purdue University. He can be reached at 765/94-6262 or [email protected]