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Kyle Bach: Off-Campus Student Housing — A Major Asset for Post-Secondary Institutions

College-aged members of Generation Z, or those born after 1996, have a specific taste when it comes to their campus housing, and who can blame them? In the middle of their childhood, they witnessed one of the biggest economic disasters our nation has faced in their lifetimes. Growing up in the midst of a nationwide economic crisis — including the collapse of the housing bubble in 2006, the subprime mortgage crisis that subsequently followed and watching their parents and neighbors struggle to make ends meet — affected this generation in ways that are just now being recognized. 

Now, those same kids are heading off to college and becoming the top target for institutions across the country. And, just like everything else, they’re very specific in what they want in terms of housing. Gen Z students are seeking affordable living spaces in close proximity to campus that provide amenities which help them succeed in school, rather than distract them from their studies. According to ClarkNexsen, students are wanting spaces that provide increased privacy, living-learning communities, diverse living spaces and sustainability. With this knowledge, universities must be able to provide housing options for these prospective and incoming students that fit these desires. But how? 

By partnering with student housing developers across the U.S., universities can provide housing options for students both on- and off-campus, that add value and prepare them for life after college. Here are three ways student housing positively affects universities and colleges, as well as their students.  

Impact on enrollment

With college enrollment projected to grow 15 percent by 2025, it is becoming increasingly crucial for universities to seek innovative solutions to help attract students and maintain steady enrollment. With this, colleges and universities will compete with many other institutions for the same groups of students. Providing affordable and sustainable living spaces for students can give these schools a leg up on their competition — allowing them to stay ahead of the curve in terms of innovation and implementing what students want out of a living space. This becomes especially important for what we call “emerging markets” — or schools with between 12,000-20,000 students — who do not necessarily have as much name recognition as their Power 5 counterparts, but can make up for it by constructing spaces fit to students’ needs. 

The impact of suitable housing options not only helps to attract students from the U.S., but international students looking to further their education in the U.S., as well. According to research, nearly 5 percent of those enrolled in higher-level education in the U.S. are international students. Offering affordable housing options near campus can easily persuade prospective students to enroll as it becomes the best of both worlds in terms of affordability and location. 

Preparing students long-term

College life gives students a chance to test the waters in terms of lifestyle and affordability. Once they arrive on campus, students are given ample amounts of independence and a chance to experience what it’s like to live on their own. Rather than a campus dormitory, which provides meals and cleaning services, off-campus apartments afford students the opportunity to manage a budget, pay bills, prepare meals, keep their living spaces, clean and more.

Universities can assist in this phase for students by partnering with developers who provide amenities that fit the students’ needs. Trending amenities for student housing developments include group study rooms, computer lounges, and free wi-fi, all of which will further their collegiate goals. Too often, we see developers showcase living spaces that offer luxury pools, rock climbing walls, and tanning beds to students, which don’t end up serving them well in the long-term. 

Along with providing relevant amenities, offering affordable living spaces helps some students mitigate the amount they’re borrowing to go to school. According to PropertyShark, Gen Z renters look at price, location and space when considering their rental options and 32% of Gen Z see student loan debt as an obstacle for buying a home post-graduation. Students will be looking for the most affordable places to live that can provide them with necessities to succeed in college. 

Reducing the financial burden for universities

Universities are always looking for ways to expand, especially when it comes to increasing enrollment. But having more students requires universities to provide additional housing options in hopes of retaining them. However, it’s not always easy for universities to invest in new housing complexes or rehab existing dormitories, making it beneficial for them to partner with private developers.

These partnerships come in a variety of forms, including both on- and off-campus developments. On-campus developments, usually referred to as public-private partnerships (P3) assist universities with the burden of financing new developments, maintaining and updating their existing on-campus housing complexes, and more. It also allows the universities to focus their time, attention and funds on their academic services, buildings, and materials.

An example of a successful off-campus partnership can be seen with The Ohio State University at Marion. The addition of student housing community The Annex of Marion has shown an immediate impact in the university and the surrounding community. The university has seen a 5 percent increase in enrollment since the property opened three years ago. Each year, The Annex of Marion brings in around 200 students that would normally commute from other nearby communities. This helps to boost the local economy and workforce with students spending money and taking on part-time jobs. This complex also emphasizes building a community feel for their residents, which makes Marion more attractive to prospective students and helps provide a more traditional college experience. 

Additionally, off-campus housing options in close proximity to campus are incredibly enticing to students. With the private developers taking the lead on the building projects, they are able to listen more to the students wants and needs, focus on the offerings making the biggest impact, and deliver those wishes in the living space. Having the students’ wishes implemented into their housing complexes leads to more satisfaction from the students, which can lead to a better retention rate for universities as a whole.

— Kyle Bach, CEO of The Annex Group