Student housing shifting to prioritize practical goals over ‘recreational dazzle’

Catering to a new generation of value-conscious college students and their families, the latest wave of student housing developments are focused on supporting academic success, facilitating collaboration, and offering digital conveniences, The New York Times reports. This marks a shift from the “recreational dazzle” that characterized student housing built when millenials arrived on college campuses.

Now, instead of “luxurious off-campus communities packed with resort-style amenities” like climbing walls and lazy rivers, Generation Z students and their families are focused on features that position them to secure their degrees and pursue future careers. Desired amenities include strong Wi-Fi, 3-D printers, digital classrooms, study spaces, and room for collaboration.

‘A more practical focus’

Having watched college costs continue to rise, these students “don’t want needless things,” Jim Curtin, a principal at the Chicago architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, told the Times. Rather, he says, “It’s almost like school is becoming more of a career boot camp: ‘How am I going to graduate with the highest-paying job I can get so I can pay down my loans?’”

Curtin points, for instance, to a 550-student complex scheduled to open this fall near the University of Illinois in Chicago, which pairs a residence hall with 52,000 square feet of academic space. Featuring study lounges on every floor, lecture halls, classrooms, and a tutoring center, the complex “opens the door to so many possibilities, like extending the hours of academic use and having resources available to students off-hours.” He expects that student housing design will continue on this trajectory for some time as families seek out “more strategically robust” facilities.

Dan Oltersdorf, a senior vice president and chief learning officer at Campus Advantage, which manages around 70 off-campus student housing communities, says his firm also is creating student housing developments with “a more practical focus.” A new 618-bed complex near the University of Florida in Gainesville, for example, will have more than 3,000 square feet of study space—far more than the amount of study space included in a project the firm built just three years ago.

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