The luxury gap

Dormitories v apartments

I wrote some time ago here about the advent of extremely luxurious student accommodation in the US. This was linked to anxieties about students having it all just too easy. Certainly the trend in the UK has been away from shared rooms and bathrooms and towards individual en suite rooms and studio apartments in new complexes with gyms and social spaces.

Now @insidehighered has an essay which argues that colleges are better with old-style dormitories than apartment-like facilities:

Apartment-style dorm rooms are the Hot New Thing at some colleges nowadays. Single rooms instead of doubles or even quads, exterior doors instead of crowded hallways, private bathrooms instead of gang showers and those icky shared toilets, even mini-kitchens instead of the noisy dining hall – all have an undeniable appeal for incoming freshmen looking to maximize the more adult features of undergraduate life.Many contemporary students grew up with their own bedrooms, and perhaps even their own bathrooms, and may recoil from sharing their personal spaces with that mysterious stranger, the roommate or hallmate. So colleges and universities, particularly sensitive to the preferences of full-pay students, are starting to move away from traditional long-hallway dorms to more individualized rooms, some with generous amenities. Prospective students seem to love the idea.

But, the argument runs, essentially this is not good for the students or their personal and academic development. The shared experience of this kind of residential life makes making friends a lot easier and provides students with a supportive environment when they most need it, at the start of their university life.

I think it’s a persuasive argument but a difficult sell to potential students. The line that it may be old, traditional and lower spec accommodation but it’s good for you is not necessarily the best pitch to applicants. Especially if this is the alternative:

Too much luxury?

Too much luxury?

But for many institutions (and students) there may not be much choice.


Is Life Too Easy on Campus?

Shouldn’t things be a little harder than this?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the changing nature of student accommodation in the US.

It’s a wee bit like Broadgate Park

Residents at a new rental community in Orlando, Fla., lounge around a resort-style pool in private cabanas. They practice their golf swings at the putting green and meditate in a Zen garden. Videogamers sip complimentary coffee while playing “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” on a multiscreen television wall. Now, they’re facing final exams.

Welcome to University House, a $65 million private college dormitory that just opened near the University of Central Florida. Built by Inland American Communities Group, University House is one of the latest upscale communities sprouting up in college towns—including East Lansing, Mich., Tempe, Ariz., College Station, Texas, and others. Developers say that colleges provide a steady stream of new customers every year, and that students—and their parents—are willing to pay for luxury amenities.

This luxurious development in the US looks extreme but in the UK there have been many developments of high specification student accommodation in university towns and cities across the country. Many will have fond or not so fond recollections (or imaginings) of student life which is a bit more like this:

An end to the traditional student experience?

This is real student life

This example of Opal student accommodation in Leeds is not untypical:

This is actually in Leeds

This is actually in Leeds

This state of the art student residence has all en suite accommodation, with a choice of standard, deluxe or studio rooms. Standard and deluxe rooms are in cluster flats of 3,4 or 5 so living with your friends is not a problem!

In fact each student room comes with a pledge – apart from your low cost gym membership – there are no hidden charges. So you know when you come to stay at Opal 1 you can budget with confidence.

On site there is a splendid leisure centre with Jacuzzi, steam room and swimming pool, with up to the minute equipment available in the gym area. There is also a launderette and common room with Sky projection so you can watch your favourite show – or football match!!

Close to the city centre and the Universities, Opal 1 student accommodation is an obvious choice for students wishing to enjoy the nightlife Leeds has to offer.

And when you come back you will rest comfortably knowing that there is extensive CCTV coverage and 24/7 security on site for your protection

This kind of accommodation is seen as a good bet for property investors too, as the Independent reports:

Developers such as Vita Student have been quick to fill the gap for luxury student accommodation. The company is in the second phase of a £27m project at Tinlings in Liverpool – home to three leading universities. Vita is converting an existing building into 120 units, all fully managed, comprising self-contained studios and a smaller number of two-, three- and four-bedroom suites. Prices start from £60,450 with an assured annual return of 9 per cent for the first two years.

Similarly in Leeds, The Edge, an IconInc development, offers “hotel-standard” studio and one-bedroom apartments costing from £78,500, with facilities including a library, den, gym and concierge service and the same 9 per cent yield for two years to reel investors in.

So, perhaps not all students will enjoy putting greens or outdoor pools but there is certainly a better standard of accommodation available than the traditional Young Ones style shared student property. The key issue for many students though will be affordability – this kind of residence doesn’t always come cheap.

Does this make life just too easy for students then? Or offer too many distractions from academic study? Perhaps there is a possibility of students enjoying these home comforts too much. But surely it’s not unreasonable for students to hope for a decent standard of accommodation. And after all, the romantic rose-tinted view of parents of their time in grotty student bedsits is really just misplaced nostalgia – there’s really no reason why their children should have to put up with poor housing as a result.

Back to the future? Reverting to single-sex accommodation

Is this really the solution?

Fascinating piece on Inside Higher Ed on a reversion to single sex accommodation at Catholic University:

“Life is Co-Ed” has become the unofficial rallying call of the Catholic University students unhappy and unconvinced by their president’s unprecedented decision to revert all dormitories to single-sex living quarters.

John Garvey, president of Catholic, announced in June that the university would be phasing in single-sex residence halls, in an effort to curb binge drinking and casual sex. He said that the change would better align the university with its moral obligations as a Roman Catholic institution.

The decision to eliminate co-ed living to revert to single-sex living, which looks to be the first of its kind, has been the talk of the campus since it was enacted at the beginning of this semester, with opinion split almost 50/50 on the issue, students say. Administrators are phasing in the living policy with this year’s freshman class, with units for older students remaining co-ed. But that doesn’t mean its intended outcomes are coming to fruition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, some students say.

On the face of it this looks like classic tabloid headline material – “Catholic University bans sex and drinking” – but there are some really significant issues here about the nature of the student experience, how far University regulation of student behaviour should reach and the extent to which there can or should be a religious dimension to regulation (inevitable at Catholic Universities but not fully replicated in church-founded institutions in the UK as far as I am aware).

However, the main issue here is whether such a policy will succeed in its aims of reducing binge drinking and casual sex. It strikes me as unlikely. Students are extremely inventive and resourceful individuals and I would be very surprised if single sex dorms have any impact (although it is not entirely clear how university officers are measuring casual sex rates).