Some of the more dramatic ongoing trends in higher education over the past decade or so have surrounded student housing. Due to a variety of factors including generational tastes, competition between institutions and broader trends in the overall housing market, the nature of student housing has been transforming on and near college campuses across the United States.

Recent years have seen a building boom of residence halls and student apartments even as school budgets decline. To some extent, it’s just one part of a long-term (and somewhat controversial) trend of new construction activity for buildings of all types on American campuses, but figures publicized last year in a white paper by the National Student Housing Council suggest that the uptick in student housing construction would likely have occurred independent of other campus construction trends. The white paper reports that between 2000 and 2010, there was a 21 percent growth in the number of students living on campuses nationwide and that only five states had been able to add enough dorm beds to keep up with the growth during that period.

The broader housing industry has taken note of the student housing trends and an increasing number of builders are attempting to break into the market. The perceived lucrative nature of this market is no doubt responsible for the fact that independent off-campus student apartment complexes have seen growth along with the on-campus residence facilities owned and operated by colleges and universities.

Part of the growth in the number of students living on campus has come from community colleges, a sector that was traditionally almost exclusively composed of commuting students. Community colleges have been adding residence halls in an attempt to increase their appeal and increasingly compete with four-year institutions for students. Over the past decade, this trend has been at work nationally, and has been in full swing in New York State, where RMS and many of our higher education clients are located.

An example of the newer generation of student housing.

It’s not just the amount of student housing or the types of institutions where it’s being built that have changed recently, but also the level of amenities that are offered. College residence halls have traditionally been associated with small, no-frills cinder block living units, but as institutions compete with each other for a new generation with high expectations, student living complexes have become much more luxurious with amenities like HD televisions, fitness centers and food courts. Some observers have noted that living in some residence halls and off-campus complexes has come to resemble a stay at a quality resort hotel more than what has traditionally been thought of as “college life.”

It is unclear at this point how long the building boom or the trend toward more luxurious housing will continue, but it is certain that the quantity and nature of student housing are issues that institutions of higher education will continue to grapple with. The importance prospective students place on living options in their college choice balanced against the construction costs and the uncertainty of how the evolution of online education will impact the concept of the residential campus concept have made the stakes of institutional decisions about student housing incredibly high.

As with any decision involving a great deal of resources and long-term, strategic consequences, RMS recommends that institutions making choices about student housing undertake feasibility and student preference research. If you work in higher education and you would like to know more about how RMS can provide solutions to facilitate data-driven decisions about student housing, please contact our Business Development Director Sandy Baker, at or by calling (315) 635-9802.