So much goes into a student’s decision to attend any given college or university: location, academic programs, campus life, etc. More and more, however, student housing is becoming an increasingly important determining factor in a student’s decision on whether to enroll at any given post-secondary institution.

After all, student housing is a significant part of both campus life and the college experience. It’s not just where students sleep. It’s where they study, where they eat, where they socialize — where they live. Indeed, a student’s on-campus living situation will dictate and define not only their college experience, but how it shapes them, as well as the memories they graduate with.

That being said, the modern student residence experience doesn’t much resemble what mom and dad endured. While modern technology has made possible a range of amenities previously unthinkable, evolving social norms have created an entirely new set of student expectations which, in turn, heavily influence how students choose what colleges to attend, and what campuses to live on. So the mark of a successful student housing manager will be their ability to adopt these technologies, meet such expectations, and support a college’s enrollment goals.

Student Resident Experience

Nowhere do modern norms and expectations influence a student’s choice of student housing more than, well, their student resident experience. After all, this environment will circumscribe their entire student lifestyle outside the classroom. Consequently, there are ~9 student housing trends that student housing managers should be on top of (and adapting to) if they’re going to create, offer, and maintain a student lifestyle experience that appeals to the modern students. 

1. Housing Amenities

How you live influences what you do and who you are. So it comes as little surprise that modern students look for a level of housing quality that meets their expectations of who they plan to grow into once they graduate. As the National Apartment Association puts it:

Housing quality is a major consideration when deciding where to attend college. In a survey of more than 25,000 students conducted by American Campus Communities in April 2018, more than 78 percent of respondents said that the availability of high-quality student housing affected their college or university selection. 

So for student housing managers, housing amenities should be top-of-mind. Gone are the days of student housing being on par with military barracks or academic dorms. Modern students are looking for a quality of life that parallels what they grew up with and are accustomed to.

2. Coed Living Spaces

Exclusively male vs female dorms are becoming less-and-less in demand. After all, we live in an age which aspires toward gender parity in every way, and as peers, male, female, and trans students want to coexist, interact, and cohabitate. Specifically, the modern student now expects gender inclusivity. This includes everything from coed residential floors to housing, complete with fully secured toilet and shower areas, as well as communal vanity spaces.

3. Diversified Housing Options

In the age where students grew up with user-generated-content and a sharing culture, modern students have different expectations of private-vs-communal living. Unsurprisingly, then, newer or more recent students are more willing to live in environments that place community interaction above privacy, whereas more seasoned students might want a student living experience that provides for more privacy. As the NAA also points out:

For example, first-year students may opt to live in a traditional residence hall with shared rooms and common floor bathrooms, sophomores may choose suite-style accommodations with shared bedrooms and a shared in-unit bathroom, while juniors and seniors live in apartment communities that provide increased privacy, with single bedrooms and full kitchens and living rooms. [And then there is] graduate student housing, which accommodates […] single students, couples, and families.

In a word, it’s imperative that student housing managers think about the communal experiences that their student housing facilities can offer students.

4. Dynamic Study Spaces

As technology and social norms evolve, student study habits have evolved alongside them. Specifically, while smart technology has become increasingly more IoT-enabled and portable, prospective students expect to not be tethered to their classroom.

Rather, modern students expect that they can take their classroom experience outside the classroom into communal spaces, such as quads, cafes, and their dorms. Consequently, student housing managers must ensure that they are providing student residents with technology-enabled study spaces that can accommodate multiple students to the extent that they can accommodate group study and collaboration.

5. Tech-Enabled Spaces & Infrastructure

From AI to IoT, smart technology is reinventing the student housing industry. This means that connectivity and technology-enabled housing space are the new norm. Consequently, student housing managers must ensure that service interruptions or throttled bandwidth are minimal or non-existent. It also means that they have to take this student behaviour into consideration when planning student housing communities, ensuring that WiFi and power outlets are accessible throughout their facilities.

6. Smart Student Living

Of course, with a tech-enabled infrastructure in place, student housing managers should consider how students can use and get the most out of it. Indeed, many campuses in the US and around the world are already taking measures to create a smart student living environment through IoT technology. As Navigant Research points out:

Saint Louis University and Arizona State University [have] installed Amazon Echo Dot devices in dorms to help students get information on campus activities. Schools including the University of Chicago, New York University, and University of California, Davis [moreover] are working […] to help students manage their thermostats through a mobile app.

Of course, smart student living innovations are not limited baseline consumer smart home assistants. Many colleges and universities are also customizing smart IoT solutions for their students’ specific needs. As the Stanford College Puzzle notes:

Colleges and universities are already using smart lighting, HVAC systems, and other mechanical equipment to optimize facility operations. College dorm security has also been reinforced by [smart] door locks, video surveillance and alarms to the remote control system. The Internet of Things makes it possible to control virtually everything, from student behavior to air quality in dorm rooms.

[…]

Using the latest Amazon technologies for smart home appliances, [Arizona State University] is installing personal assistants in engineering dorms. They call them “Ask ASU” devices that will help resolve related issues. […]

The university has [also] set up so called virtual ‘beacons’ in classrooms to find out trends in student attendance, which allow administrators to identify students who might need any assistance with their studies. The university also wants to replace traditional IDs and provide students with wearables that will bring more security to the campuses.

So upon providing student residents with the infrastructure they require to support their academic goals and student lifestyle, student housing managers should also know what tools they can provide residents with to get the most out of that infrastructure. In a word, it’s not so much that ‘if you build it, they will come’, but rather ‘if you build it and make it usable, they will want to come’.

7. Sustainable Housing

With the climate crisis where it is, it comes as little surprise that students who are inheriting the world next are mindful of sustainability practices. For student housing managers, this means having to create more eco-friendly living spaces. 

This will include everything from implementing energy management and water conservation systems, to installing high-efficiency appliances, to taking inspiration from the hotel industry. More importantly, student housing managers should be clearly communicating these sustainability efforts to their eco-conscious students, whether they’re current or prospective residents.

8. Walkable Campus Planning

In line with their more eco-consciousness, modern students are more interested in walkable campus experiences. Not only does it line-up with reducing their carbon footprint, but it saves them the expense of owning a car or taking public transit daily. Delivering on this experience, of course, requires planning, and can involve anything from moving parking to the outskirts of campus, converting paved areas back into greenspace, or reappropriating it into additional student amenities.

9. Dynamic Residential Assistant Support

As student housing options diversify, so too must the Residential Assistant model. Indeed, different students living in different environments will face different challenges reaching academic success. A dynamic RA network, however, can help students prepare for and cope with the unique challenges of their specific student residence.

Student Housing Operations

Of course, for every way that student resident experience is changing and evolving, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that mirrors and paces that evolution. Indeed, there are a number of trends in student housing operations that not only support the modern student resident experience, but offer student housing managers efficiencies and significant cost-savings.

10. Smart HVAC Technology

Recall how some schools are already working to allow students to manage their thermostats through a mobile app. Well on the operations side of things, smart HVAC technology is reducing student housing energy costs and providing student housing managers with actionable insight into their energy consumption.

For starters, smart thermostats and occupancy sensors monitor and automatically respond to fluctuations in occupancy in both residential quarters and common areas. And these thermostats and sensors far surpass the functionality of consumer residential devices (such as those sold by Nest and Ecobee), which aren’t designed to manage the demand of large scale occupancy patterns over a large number of rooms or residences.

Smart HVAC energy management technology (such as Verdant EI), moreover, also employs machine learning algorithms to continuously analyze the data collected from sensors, historical thermodynamics, and local weather patterns to optimize energy consumption in real-time, throughout the school year.

For example, Verdant’s energy management system will monitor student rooms and suites for motion, body heat, and temperature. It will then use that real-time data to adjust room temperatures to provide the best possible student experience — all the while minimizing energy consumption costs. Indeed, adopting and implementing smart energy management systems for its cost savings potential is already commonplace in the hotel and senior residence industries.

Verdant’s smart energy management platform also offers student housing managers efficiencies that go well beyond automated optimization and cost-saving. Its remote management features also allow engineering staff to monitor HVAC output, and ensure that student residence climate control systems are operating at peak efficiency — including HVAC diagnostic alerts whenever an HVAC unit isn’t performing within expected parameters.

11. Smart Lighting

Lighting also represents a significant overhead for student housing facilities. Fortunately, smart energy management isn’t limited only to HVAC systems. Indeed, smart lighting systems are also helping student housing managers to (1) understand lighting energy needs, (2) automate consumption optimization, and (3) respond to real-time changes in occupancy patterns, helping them to reduce energy consumption costs.

Similar to how Verdant’s machine-learning-backed HVAC technology functions, smart lighting systems also leverage occupancy sensors to manage and optimize energy consumption throughout the school year. In fact, such smart lighting systems will even adjust the intensity of lighting according to time of day and amount of daylight coming through windows, creating a seamlessly comfortable, safe, and convenient student housing experience for residents.

Finally, some smart lighting systems can be interfaced with some smart HVAC energy management systems, allowing student housing managers to monitor and manage both HVAC and lighting energy consumption through a single interface. For instance, Verdant’s line of occupancy sensors is able to integrate with third party smart lighting systems to automatically adjust lighting according to a room’s or space’s occupancy, all the while collecting and analyzing real-time data that it then uses to optimize energy consumption on an ongoing basis.

12. Smart Maintenance & Predictive Insights

Of course, wear and tear is a reality for any infrastructure, and as Murphy’s Law stipulates: ‘whatever can go wrong, will go wrong’. Unsurprisingly, then, maintenance costs are a significant line item for any student housing manager, and the unpredictability of maintenance issues can frustrate financial planning, to say the least.

Indeed, if overlooked, maintenance entropy can lead not only to negative or disruptive resident experiences, but inflated repair costs down the line. Fortunately, smart IoT-tech is helping student housing managers track and even predict maintenance issues, before they become more costly ones. As StudentHousingBusiness.com puts it:

With many students having an inconsistent schedule, it’s common for maintenance malfunctions to go unnoticed. It can sometimes be weeks before a tenant even realizes there is an issue […]

IoT devices, when integrated with a robust reporting software, can be used to monitor equipment performance and real-time conditions within individual residences. [This gives property managers] unprecedented visibility into metrics like equipment run-time, thermostat set point, temperature and humidity levels, which empowers them to detect maintenance issues immediately […] This not only helps prevent the need for costly repairs, but alleviates the need for a tenant to be home to report any issues.

Similar to how smart HVAC systems monitor, measure, track, and optimize energy costs, predictive maintenance allows student housing managers to leverage sensor data to identify wasteful or inefficient consumption trends, which might be indicative of faulty equipment. In fact, predictive insights can even alert student housing managers to maintenance issues before they escalate into much more costly ones. For instance, if an HVAC unit isn’t performing within specified parameters, Verdant’s smart energy management system will alert maintenance staff about those anomalies so that the unit can be serviced before it deteriorates further, and while residents are not in their room.

Predictive maintenance insights, furthermore, aren’t limited only to energy consumption. For example, a single leaky toilet can cost as much as $840/year. Should there be any additional water damage before that leak is detected, moreover, maintenance costs can rise quickly. By monitoring water lines with low-cost, IoT-enabled smart water meters, however, student housing operators can identify leaks before they escalate, preventing additional collateral damage, and reducing maintenance costs.

Finally, all this sensor data can be used to create maintenance schedules based on real-time usage patterns, rather than relying on arbitrary or routine maintenance schedules. So student housing managers can reduce not only infrastructure maintenance costs, but also the labor maintenance labor costs, as well.

Riding the Curve to Stay Ahead of It

Progress and change are at the heart of academia. After all, the pursuit of truth brings us to new discoveries that allow us to make advancements in technology and our quality of life. It’s no surprise, then, that academic life, from the classroom to the dorm room, is in a constant state of flux — and student housing is no exception.

While some trends in student housing management are simply old ones evolving, other trends are completely new and unprecedented, altogether. What’s important for student housing managers, then, is staying on top of how technology can help them meet the evolving needs of their student residents, and improve their operations overall.

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