It is no secret that the student housing industry was impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Few groups felt that more acutely than colleges and universities. New on-campus development slowed dramatically as higher education institutions shifted their focus primarily to keeping classes in session while maintaining student safety. Moving out of the pandemic, new residence hall development has picked up once again — even accelerating past levels seen prior to the pandemic in certain markets. And the focus for many of these new projects is providing collaboration space and allowing for plenty of study room, while keeping costs at a minimum.
A Growing Pipeline
A robust pipeline of new on-campus projects is currently underway across the country.
RISE: A Real Estate Co. delivered two P3 projects [in Fall 2022], which included the addition of 750 beds at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and 550 beds at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey.
“It was one of our most challenging delivery years on record, but we were able to make it happen on-time and on-budget,” says Senior Vice President Jeremy Doss. “These projects were impacted by supply chain challenges and a blistering escalation of the construction market, but our teams worked around the clock to deliver.”
The company’s current development pipeline includes several P3 projects with a recent groundbreaking of a 513-bed residence hall at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
Wi-Fi speed and bandwidth also continue to grow in importance on-campus. “Wi-Fi speed can be a huge differentiator in new on-campus residence halls,” says Doss of RISE. “Cellular connectivity is also critical and needs to be tested and boosted with infrastructure during construction if there are any potential shortfalls. Zoom or virtual meeting rooms are growing in popularity as the number of virtual interactions for students continues to increase, with study and meeting spaces remaining equally important.”
Doss also notes that package lockers continue to grow in popularity, as well as door locks and access control with smart phone integration.
The consensus across the board is that the number of P3 projects will remain robust over the coming years.
Partnering with private developers can also give universities a leg up when competing for student enrollees. “We’re seeing students refuse to live in the dated dormitories of yesteryear,” says Doss of RISE. “Institutions will have to adapt to this as recruitment competition continues to increase due to the enrollment cliff and a decreasing applicant pool.”
Flattening enrollment numbers might also lead universities to try to keep students living on-campus throughout their academic tenure. “More campuses are going to implement a living continuum on campus rather than allow students to progress out of on-campus living accommodations to independent, off-campus communities,” says Doss. “With flattening enrollment, universities will likely begin focusing on housing a higher percentage of their students on-campus, where they will also better utilize all of the other auxiliary services the university has to offer.”
—Katie Sloan, Student Housing Business