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10 Student Housing Trends for 2020/2021: Technology, Transport & Privacy

Category: Education

Universities and colleges are under constant pressure to provide residential facilities that match the needs and expectations of modern students. However, with the ever-changing student housing trends, building amenities that foster socialization, engagement, and academic excellence has proved to be a hard nut to crack.

In this article, we’ll look into the latest trends in student housing that are shaping the future of this niche. For universities, colleges, and student housing operators, understanding these trends will help them create smart buildings that will improve retention rates. On the other hand, students can leverage this information to know what to expect from housing providers.

trends in student housing

The student housing niche offers a prime investment opportunity for investors looking for stable, consistent returns. This is simply because there aren’t enough facilities to satisfy the sustained high levels of college and university enrollment.

A recent student housing market report by CBRE Research revealed that in 2018, the university enrollment in the US was 19.9 million.[1]This number is poised to increase rapidly between 2018 and 2027, reaching up to 20.5 million. However, even as enrollment skyrockets, it is evident that universities and colleges alike don’t have the facilities to accommodate all the students.

In fact, according to the same report on student housing statistics, universities in the US can accommodate only a meager 21.5% of students in on-campus housing. This means 78.5% of the undergraduates are left to seek accommodation off-campus or live at home.

Source: CBRE Research

The limited availability of on-campus housing, on the other hand,  opens a horizon for private developers looking to venture into student housing spaces. It’s hardly surprising, then, that there was an influx of new investors into this niche in 2018. Apparently, more than $10.9 billion flowed into the student housing sector in 2018[2]— an increase of approximately 77% over the five-year average.

Here are some of the trends that are shaping the student housing industry:

1. Technology

A few decades ago, studying simply meant reading from a textbook. Back then, textbooks and handwritten notes were indispensable in the world of academia. Besides, the library was the point of convergence where students would spend huge chunks of their time perusing books to unearth information.

Fast forward to today, the way students learn has changed dramatically. The advent of the internet and advances in technology have redefined the future of learning management. Smart campuses, computer-assisted learning, and online learning are now part and parcel of modern learning. Even more interesting, institutions of higher learning have become homes to a cohort of digital natives.

Today’s students know no world without the internet and technology. They rely heavily on devices and apps not only to socialize but, most importantly, to study. Technology, to them, is a utility or a base requirement rather than an added advantage. On the other hand, using laptops, tablets, and smartphones is quintessentially part of their daily life.

To live up to the expectation of today’s students, institutions are redesigning student facilities to add smart and tech-inspired features. For example, in 2018, Arizona State University installed 11, 000 Cisco access points,[3] to handle the over 50,000 connections that happen on a typical day.

On the other hand, multiple campuses have gone all out to implement smart tech to student housing. However, the race is not won yet because, as of 2017, only 23% of institutions had the infrastructure[4] to support emerging connected campus technologies.

Usage of campus tech

Technology trend highlights:

  • Technology-enabled spaces have become the norm in college residence and communities.
  • Modern student housing facilities offer wireless access points and other essential tech features.
  • WiFi connectivity is available across campus.

2. Modern, collaborative spaces

The adage “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” rings true in the world of academia. Students need time off their studies to engage, make new connections, and strengthen relationships. As such, student housing should offer collaborative spaces to nurture connections and support students to achieve academic success.

To align with this goal to engage students, modern design concepts feature flexible study spaces, lounges, laundries, kitchens, and recreation areas with comfy furniture. These indoor spaces allow students to accomplish tasks, meet, and have fun.

Moreover, nowadays, student housing comes with favorable amenities, such as faculty-in-residence, green screens, innovation incubators, ping pong tables, and makerspaces. Better still, institutions are creating comfortable outdoor spaces to support a range of educational, social, and recreational programming.

Colleges are coming up with new buildings that are in line with this student housing trend. For example, in its 2019 student housing brief, the North Island College, Canada outlined its intention to include unique spaces to the new student complex in the Comox Valley Campus. The new housing will feature different types of living units with unique indoor and outdoor spaces to bridge the gap between private and public communities.

Modern, collaborative spaces highlights:

  • Institutions now offer flexible common places to foster social engagement.
  • Besides, colleges and universities are adding modern spaces within residence halls to boost retention.
  • Moreover, comfy furniture that can be reorganized has become the norm within residence halls.

3. Going Green

The current group of students is particularly environmentally aware. They have grown up in an era where information is easily accessible, and they’re not new to discussions about the importance of environmental conservation. As such, sustainability is ingrained in their minds, and they’re prepared to keep the fire burning.

In the same sense, institutions of higher learning don’t want to be the stumbling block to sustainability. Many colleges and universities are on the fore of this revolution, striving to incorporate green features into their student housing design. Furthermore, the dignified scramble for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum status is on high gear with each institution yearning to unveil state-of-the-art green features.

For example, the University of West Scotland has taken the concept of sustainability and green tech to a new level with its $140 billion campuses in Lanarkshire. The campus buildings offer multiple green features, but the subtle one is that it’s carbon neutral. Besides, the campus is powered 100% by renewable energy from the Blantyre Muir Wind Farm. By ditching the old campus, the University of West Scotland has reduced its carbon footprint by 22%,[5]

impact of innovative green tech

Going green highlights:

  • Nowadays, students live in buildings that are designed to be sustainable.
  • Institutions are renovating old buildings and creating new buildings that are sustainable as they strive to earn top LEED status.
  • Besides, universities are encouraging students to embrace environmental accountability.

4. Increased Privacy

There is no doubt, today’s students want collaboration, but make no mistake, they still value privacy. Their inherent desire for privacy stems from the fact that many come to campus, having never shared a bedroom or bathroom before.

Colleges and universities aren’t going to abolish the shared room policy because of the student housing shortage. However, institutions are well aware of the growing need for individual privacy. Interestingly, many are gradually deviating from the norm to meet this need. For example, many institutions have done away with the communal bathrooms in the residence halls. Besides, some are decreasing the number of students sharing a room.

Moreover, we now have suites that offer private spaces for students and noise control solutions. Some institutions are even offering spa bathrooms with private showers and toilet areas to optimize student comfort. More changes are on the way as institutions strive to make all types of students comfortable.

Increased privacy highlights:

  • Privacy has become a highly valuable amenity.
  • In addition, institutions of higher learning are tweaking their housing policies to offer a range of privacy levels.
  • Moreover, universities provide noise control solutions and private spaces to boost privacy.

5. Transportation and parking

A few years back, a majority of students brought cars to campuses, forcing housing communities to provide ample parking. Interestingly, this is not the case these days, thanks to the emergence of diverse transportation options. Nowadays, the number of students that bring cars to campuses is on a downward spiral.

Primarily, institutions of higher learning are advocating for eco-friendly transportation options. They are advising students to switch to alternative, cheaper, and energy-efficient means of transport such as bikes and cross-campus transit shuttle systems. Some universities are even teaming up with ride-sharing providers to lessen the need for parking spaces on campuses.

For example, Colorado State University partnered with Zipcar, a leading car-sharing network, to offer students and employees convenient car-sharing services. Better still, the bike-share service has earned plaudits from both on-campus and off-campus students at Colorado State University. In 2018, 57% of on-campus students and 37% of off-campus students used the free-floating bike-share program.[6]

Percentage of Colorado State University Students that Used Bike-Share Program

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Source: (2018)

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Transportation and parking highlights:

  • The number of students bringing cars to campuses has dropped.
  • The prospects of alternative transportation options have taken the pressure to provide ample parking off the shoulders of student housing operators.
  • Moreover, institutions have brought cross-campus shuttle systems and carsharing services to students’ doorsteps.

6. Uni-Owned vs Private Spaces

Students have varying privacy and community living needs, which define on- and off-campus student housing trends. When it comes to life in college or university, students are always looking to be comfortable. Luckily, modern student housing facilities, both on- and off-campus, are designed to provide unique social, academics, and other amenities to meet varying priorities.

However, this has not always been the case. Traditionally, uni-owned halls were no-frills in terms of facilities and interiors. On the other hand, private spaces went the whole hog, providing state-of-the-art facilities and perks never envisioned with communal spaces. Luckily today, the gap has been closed. As a result, the choice between communal and private halls of residence boils down to multiple factors, such as privacy and availability of vacancy.

Uni-owned vs private spaces highlights:

  • The occupancy levels for on- and off-campus housing[1] has remained fairly constant since 2016.
  • Today, off-campus housing is only has a slight advantage over on-campus housing concerning available amenities.
  • Beyond privacy, students choose on- or off-campus housing based on the availability of smart amenities.

7. Community and Resident Assistants

Resident Assistants, commonly known as RAs, are an integral part of the student housing experience. For freshmen, RAs smoothen the transition from life in a parental home to the student-centric accommodation, which at times, can be overwhelming. Besides, with RAs available on- or off-campus, parents can rest easy knowing their children are in safe hands.

Today, nearly all student housing buildings have student paraprofessionals. While this has been the norm for decades, RAs are getting increased duties. Today, their overarching role is to enforce rules and regulations for residents. They are also tasked with ensuring healthy living for students on top of performing other admin, institution, and community-related jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, universities, colleges, and professional schools have the highest concentration of RAs at 10.7%.[7] Besides, the sector is among the top five industries with the highest employment levels in RA occupation.

concentration of resident assistants

Community and resident assistant highlights:

  • Resident assistants have become the standard both on- and off-campus.
  • Resident assistants foster healthy student living.
  • Besides, RAs play a critical role in the student’s academic success.

8. Diverse Unit Types

Additionally, in a bid to match the varying student housing preferences and needs, colleges are providing more diverse unit types. This is not an entirely new trend as it has been around since 2016, but it still impacts the way forward for student housing.

Apparently, universities and colleges are providing diverse unit types in response to emerging student lifestyles. Today, it’s barely a surprise to find a housing complex that blends quad style, studio-style, and family apartments.

The desire to give students the freedom to live as they like has influenced this unique designed strategy. In 2018, it was revealed that 22% of students live in on-campus dormitories,[8] 23% in modern, purpose-built student housing, and the rest live in other types of rental housing.

This way, students get the opportunity to make intelligent, personal life choices that are ideal for social and academic excellence. Besides, smart designs allow institutions to tweak the housing methodology to match their identity and culture, as and when they deem fit.

Source: NREI (2018)

Diverse unit types highlights:

  • Universities offer multiple unit types built to meet increasing lifestyle preferences.
  • Besides, modern student housing facilities blend quad style, studio-style, and family apartments.
  • Interestingly, the new designs are beneficial to both students and institutions.

9. The Phasing Out of the ‘Dorm’

Traditionally, on-campus dormitories were simply places for students to live and nothing more. They were short of vital amenities or indoor spaces and offered no room for student engagement. It’s no surprise, then, that many students lived in off-campus housing, which was way better than on-campus residences.

Fast forward to today, the modern student housing buildings are redefining what we once called dormitories. Today’s on-campus student residence and communities look more and more like off-campus housing. They sport an urban feel and look, plus they are filled with state-of-the-art amenities to support students’ basic, social, and academic needs.

Most importantly, modern housing facilities are lively, sustainable, and engaging. They appeal to students, thanks to exquisite outdoor pools, hip coffee shops, technology-enabled study areas, and in-suite laundry spaces. Put simply, these residences and college communities provide the amenities that woo the current generation of students.

The phasing out of the dorm highlights:

  • Modern dorms are amenity-filled.
  • Besides, today’s student housing facility is more of a mixed-use apartment than the usual dorm.
  • Moreover, modern dorms offer ample spaces for entertainment and study.

10. Gender-Neutral Housing Policies

In the wake of intensified campaigns for gender inclusivity, exclusive male or female dorms are paving the way for co-ed housing. In fact, by 2009, nearly 90% of colleges and universities[9] in the United States had at least one gender-neutral dorm. While the trend started a decade ago, recently, a lot has been happening regarding co-ed housing policies.

Institutions have found a way to provide co-ed housing and still guarantee student privacy. For example, on the subject of bathrooms, some co-ed dorms offer gender-specific showers. Besides, there are multiple communal spaces to cook, hang out, and/or study.

For example, in 2019, Yale University gave its freshmen the novelty of living in gender-neutral rooms,[10] consisting of two female students and two male students. The institution’s expansion of the mixed-gender housing policy embodies the ongoing student housing trend in higher education. Also, like Yale University, Harvard University will offer mixed-gender suites for freshmen, starting with the class of 2022.

Gender-neutral housing highlights:

  • The exclusive male and female college communities are no longer the benchmark of student housing.
  • Institutions of higher education, including some Ivy League schools and a handful of the most expensive universities in the US, have embraced the idea of co-ed housing with open arms.
  • Interestingly, universities offering modern co-ed housing can guarantee multiple levels of privacy.

What Next for the Student Housing Space?

There is no doubt, with the iGeneration coming into universities and colleges, everything about the student housing has changed. Unlike other generations, Gen Z students bring a unique set of needs and lifestyle preferences. Generation Z behaviors are nothing like what we’ve known before.

Modern technology has influenced Gen Z since they were born; hence, they are utterly selective when it comes to the amenities offered by college communities and residence. For example, increased privacy, comfy and technology-enabled study spaces, and car-sharing services are bare minimum requirements.

The lifestyle preferences of the iGeneration largely influence the trends, and student housing facts we discussed. Besides, the intrigues of modern technology play a significant role in the changes taking place in the industry, not the least the impact of multiple pieces of research on student stress statistics that are sure to disrupt the bigger universe that is campus premises. By considering these factors, housing operators have managed to create products that are not only aligned with the student’s demand but also resilient to the downward economic cycles.

Unfortunately, no one has the crystal ball to predict the future of the student housing industry. All you can do is to keep your ears to the ground and remain receptive to the imminent changes. This way, you’ll deliver communities that are conducive to student socialization, unity, engagement, and academic success. Remember some student are enrolled in some of the most expensive degrees in the US; hence, should be afforded the comfort they need to perform well.


  1. ^United States Student Housing 2019
  2. ^2018 Student Housing Market Overview
  3. ^Integrated Technologies Collaborative. August 2018
  4. ^Leveraging the Internet of Things for a Smarter, Safer Campus
  5. ^Sustainable buildings that inspire: award winner and runners-up
  6. ^Evaluation of free-floating bike-share on a university campus using a multi-method approach
  7. ^Occupational Employment and Wages May 2018
  8. ^Distribution of university students living in the United States in 2018, by accommodation type
  9. ^Co-ed Dorms: Sleeping Together
  10. ^New Mixed-Gender Suite Option Sees Success With First-Years
Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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