Years ago, the foremost thing on the minds of many new college students as they arrived at their residence halls for the first time was figuring out how quickly they could move off campus.
Campus living in many instances meant being crammed into a spartan space that offered the latest in bunkbed fashions and the “unique” personalities of one or sometimes two roommates. To bathe or use the telephone, students had to leave their rooms and trudge down the hall. Meal times were set in stone; students who didn't make it to the dining hall for dinner would have to resort to the stash of peanut butter hidden in their sock drawers or tough it out until breakfast the next morning — if they woke up in time.
Who could blame a student for dreaming about finding a place with more appealing living conditions?
For students at many colleges and universities, they can find housing that lives up to their wishes without leaving campus. A growing number of schools have been upgrading their student housing to provide more of what students want. This new campus housing provides some of the freedom of off-campus apartment living, the conveniences students had back home with mom and dad, and the privacy that was lacking in the institutional ambience of old-style residence halls.
“The new space allows us to offer the same amenities as what is available off-campus,” says Todd Justesen, associate director of residence life at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Fla., where two new residence halls opened this year.
Higher-education administrators want students to live on campus because they believe it will result in a more rewarding college experience. Some benefits are practical: On-campus residents usually are closer to their classes, have more opportunities to meet people, and don't have to cook their meals or find a parking space each day.
In addition, studies indicate that students living in residence halls are more likely to graduate, get more involved in campus activities, and be more satisfied with their college experience.
But if the accommodations are inadequate or objectionable, those conditions may obscure the benefits of on-campus living and send dissatisfied students searching for better living arrangements.
At Texas Tech University in Lubbock, officials surveyed students to find out what they would like to see in the $24 million residence hall it was planning.
“What the students said they wanted is a little more privacy,” says Alice Scott, assistant to the director of housing at Texas Tech.
In the new 178,000-square-foot Murray Hall, which opened in August, each of the more than 500 residents has his or her own bedroom as part of four-bedroom, two-bathroom suites that also include a common living room.
At St. Leo in Florida, students expressed similar wishes for space to call their own.
“Their priorities were private rooms and kitchen space,” says Justesen.
The two five-story residence halls that opened there in August provide space for 320 juniors and seniors in four-bedroom suites, each with full kitchens and living rooms. Access to a kitchen allows students to sign up for a meal plan that best fits their class schedules and lifestyles.
“The new halls have a more grown-up feel,” says Justesen.
For the first time in 25 years, the University of Kentucky has new student housing on its Lexington campus. The school sought the opinions of students, parents and faculty members on the design of the four new halls, says Ben Crutcher, the university's associate vice president for auxiliary services.
“We asked them, ‘What would you like?’ and we were able to supply most of it,” says Crutcher. “The students seem to like everything.”
The four buildings — one four-story and three three-story structures — encompass 271,000 square feet of space and can accommodate 684 students in suites with private bedrooms.
“We have a full kitchen, laundry facilities and vending on every floor,” says Crutcher. “We use modular furniture so the students can configure it any which way they like. There is an abundance of windows to take advantage of natural light. The windows can be opened for fresh air — the students said they wanted to be able to open their windows.”
At St. Leo, where students have to endure the Florida heat, ceiling fans are installed in the students' apartments, says Justesen. And, like most college campuses, students at St. Leo tend to crank up their stereos, so residents had a difficult time hearing when someone was knocking on their apartment doors. At the request of students, the school installed doorbells on each living unit.
The right connections
Use of the Internet among college students has become so ubiquitous that most new student housing offers students access to the Internet. At the University of Kentucky, the new housing provides Internet hookups for residents. Each of the new halls also has wireless connections in all of the common areas.
St. Leo University takes its computer offerings a step further. Each student who lives on campus receives a laptop computer that can plug into network ports in their rooms or can connect via St. Leo's wireless network.
“We have more or less a wireless campus,” says Justesen.
Percentage of residence-hall projects completed in 2004 that offer student Internet access.
Percentage of residence-hall projects completed in 2004 that offer kitchen facilities.
Percentage of residence-hall projects completed in 2004 that include classrooms.
Source: American School & University's 16th Annual Residence Hall Construction Report (June 2005).
Sidebar: Living and learning
To provide a more accommodating environment for students with special interests, many campuses have designated what are commonly known as living-learning centers. They are specific residential areas — sometimes a particular section or floor in a residence hall — for students with similar interests.
At the University of Kentucky, the residence halls opened this year include living-learning centers that focus on fine arts, cross-cultural understanding, and economics. The students that are part of such a group are assigned to the same residence hall to facilitate greater interaction, says Ben Crutcher, the university's associate vice president for auxiliary services. But those with special interests are not isolated from other students. The halls also include many residents that are not part of the living-learning center, says Crutcher.
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, about one-fifth of residence hall spaces are “special-interest” floors. Some focus on specific ethnic or racial groups — African-American; Chicano/Latino; Asian/Pacific Islander.
Other special-interest floors focus on students' lifestyle or other pursuits:
Substance-free: For students committed to a lifestyle without any use of alcohol or other substances.
Quiet: For students dedicated to a quiet study environment.
Rainbow house: A “gay-friendly” atmosphere for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and their supporters.
Global living experience: For international students, participants in overseas-education programs and students who just love to travel.
Wellness: For students interested in health maintenance, physical wellness and activities that help promote a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle.
Kennedy is staff writer for AS&U.