Student residences: 4 trends to watch

August 3, 2017 Stephen Siegle

University housing of the future will blur the line between life and study


With a huge inventory of 1960s and 1970s campus housing stock in need of renovation or replacement, increasing university enrollment, and a shortage of on-campus housing nationwide, there is tremendous pressure on universities across the country to meet the demand of today’s student. Total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting post-secondary institutions was 17.5 million students in Fall 2013, an increase of 46 percent from 1990, when it was 12 million students. By 2024, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase to 19.6 million students.

A typical room in Horizon Village at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The LEED Gold facility offers students the choice between two- and four-bedroom suite-style apartments. (Stantec in association with BSA)


Competition among educational institutions for the best and the brightest is intensifying the need for additional and updated housing. The demand for student residences is growing, but finding common ground between the wants, needs, and budgets of students and the needs of educational institutions is crucial to successful student housing of the future.

What students want …

Recent campus housing surveys show us that most students want to be close to campus—within walking distance if possible. They want in-unit washer/dryers, individual bathrooms, and cable/Wi-Fi included in their monthly rent. They like the freedom, lifestyle, and amenities of living off campus, but often it is cost that leads them to find and share apartments. About 70 percent of students say on-campus housing is more expensive than off-campus options.


A strategic renovation of Leitch and Bourgeois halls, originally built in 1967, at the University of Massachusetts Lowell repositions them as sought after on-campus housing.


What universities want …
Today, most American college students (80 percent) live off campus, which poses a challenge for universities who want to foster community, blend academics with student life, and create more opportunities for students to collaborate and learn from each other. University desires for housing can be summed up this way:

  1. Foster a sense of community on campus
    Schools want students to cross paths and engage in out-of-class learning and unique experiences—bonding and sharing ideas with their professors and graduate students.
  2. Allow for mobility in studying and collaboration
    Today’s technology, largely portable and personalized, means computer labs are going away—although printing may stick around in some form. Innovative, flexible common spaces and informal learning settings—such as nontraditional residence hall classrooms and spaces for students to collaborate—are high priorities.
  3. Blend learning and living
    Research shows that a mix of spaces, including rooms for small group study and project work, create environments that are highly conducive to student learning while increasing a student’s perception of his or her overall residence hall experience.
    Shared studying spaces and computer rooms are necessary in student residences, but some major universities are adding classrooms and guided learning to their new housing developments and creating residential learning communities.
  4. Attract students
    Residence halls are changing rapidly. Universities will be keen to develop a mix that can attract the best students in a competitive environment. Some schools are opting for an amenity-heavy approach in new housing, while others are more cautious and considering affordability. Investment in amenities must be balanced against cost—students tend to live off campus for budgetary reasons and priced-in amenities could drive them away.


A lounge area near the laundry room in Horizon Village at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. (Stantec in association with BSA)


How will designers respond?

  1. Create great common areas
    Technology has made every space a potential study area. Comfortable and vibrant common areas blur the line between study and living space. We’ll see more flexible and open spaces for doing work. These spaces have plush or club chairs rather than desks and they encourage customization.
  2. Downsize bedrooms
    Smaller bedrooms mean more resources can be budgeted for common and shared spaces. These smaller bedrooms are 200-240 square feet for doubles and about 125 square feet for singles. Designs with customizable elements and apartment-like amenities can draw students from off-campus.
  3. Set the stage for teaching and learning anywhere
    As mentioned above, designers need to create innovative flexible common spaces where studying can take place. Taking it a step further, some of these informal learning settings will be in nontraditional residence halls where class, group study, or solo work can take place. These flexible rooms will need to be multi-purpose spaces with movable furniture and the ability to quickly transform into a classroom or lecture hall.
  4. Think vertical
    Student lifestyles, the availability of mobile technology, educational methods, and the value of urban real estate all suggest that we’ll see more vertical campuses in the future. A mixed-use, vertically-oriented building with a variety of amenities and flexible spaces for study and education can fill many of the roles universities have in mind for new residences.

Trends in student residences are fascinating topics. Check back for future discussions about amenities and affordability, security and safety, and wellness and sustainability.

About the Author

Stephen Siegle

Stephen Siegle works on higher education and multi-family residential projects in Chicago and enjoys sketching vernacular architecture when he travels.

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