Spring semester is now underway at some schools, but for many universities and colleges, the roadmap for returning to campus after winter break was less than crystal clear. A number of institutions have pushed back re-opening their campus to a later date, hoping to bring students back once COVID-19 case numbers have lowered. These delays have resulted in slower leasing velocity in certain markets, but not by a tremendous amount.
Charlie Matthews, principal of College House Data, notes that State College, Pennsylvania, felt an impact in leasing after Pennsylvania State University announced plans to push the re-opening of campus following winter break to Feb. 15.
This dip in leasing velocity, he states, has been seen in other markets where universities have made similar decisions regarding the start of the spring semester. As with many of the other struggles brought on by COVID-19, the level of impact is being felt differently on a market-to-market basis.
“Markets that have seen a lot of new deliveries this year also seem to be a little behind,” says Matthews. “One positive trend we’ve seen is that a good number of assets that delivered in fall 2020 are outperforming market lease-up numbers from last year. Clemson, South Carolina, is doing exceptionally well, as is Athens, Georgia, with assets outperforming leasing results from prior years, which is great to see.”
While operators work to manage spring semester, many are looking forward with uncertainty towards the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. The return of international students continues to be a question mark. On the one hand, if international students return it could be a boon for many markets and owners. If they do not, another year of sub-optimal occupancy could be in the offing for owners and operators with properties that traditionally draw a large percentage of foreign students. Both on- and off-campus, the threat of COVID-related protocol changes for fall 2021 lingers and is a question mark in the minds of owners and operators.
“Each market will be impacted in different ways,” says Matthews. “If schools need to de-densify on-campus housing, that will just benefit the off-campus market. We saw large jumps in late leasing in Raleigh, North Carolina, after such measures were put in place. I think the school administrators have learned a lot this past year and have a better understanding of how to combat COVID-19 and keep students safe while still retaining a sense of pre-COVID normalcy.”
— Katie Sloan