P3 partnerships: Bringing students back to campus (part 2)

Last week we looked at the modern-day student’s expectations when it comes to housing on college campuses and determined it’s more than four walls. Today’s campus experience considers a much broader, interconnected “lifestyle” focused on more than what happens in the classroom, cafeteria, or on the quad. Progressive institutions are taking note and looking to merge their own unique perspectives with that of their student clients and potential developer partners via P3 partnerships.

What institutions want

While institution-led housing projects are typically slower and cost (on average) 20-30 percent more than privately built developments, they too continue increasing year over year. According to the National Center for Education, on-campus housing grew by about 5.2 percent between 2011 and 2015—from 2.9 million beds to 3.1 million beds. Clearly, off-campus developments aren’t meeting the entire demand.

Many students cannot afford off-campus rents, and frankly, desire a more integrated and engaged university experience. To compete for those students, we are seeing student-life trends that emphasize more “community-building” spaces on campus, rather than creating single rooms and small suites that can lead to small social groups.

That said, it’s important for universities to ask themselves: Is on-campus housing—particularly for upperclassmen—part of our core experience and brand? The University of Oregon responded with a resounding yes, pointing to a 2017 article in the Daily Emerald, that reported the following benefits of resident life staying on campus:

  • Earlier graduation: Enrollment and graduation data for 2006-2012 show that students who lived on campus were 80 percent more likely to graduate within six years.
  • Better academic performance: On-campus students also had a higher mean grade point average than off-campus students.
  • Onsite academic resources: On-campus residents benefit from resources offered in residence halls. Some residents have access to live-in faculty who provide students with one-on-one counseling and academic assistance, for instance.
  • More convenient: On-campus students can get food with meal points and have quick access to study areas. There are also built-in opportunities for community events within the residence halls, where students can make friends and relax.
  • 24-hour support: On-campus housing gives ready access to 24-hour support and emergency access through residence life programs.

What developer partners can offer

The research is compelling that on-campus housing leads to better retention, academic performance, and graduation rates across the board. But interestingly, this impact typically occurs in the first two years of school, as most upperclassmen do not live on campus. In fact, according to a New York Times article, 87 percent of ALL college students do not live on campus, and the percentage is higher when only upperclassmen are considered. This phenomenon leads to the following questions:

  • Who controls the brand, mission, student life, and housing experience of the university after the first two years of school?
  • Why aren’t universities building more underclassmen housing?
  • Is there an opportunity to further enhance the total college experience and student success by offering more upperclassmen housing?
  • With current high costs of construction and more upperclassmen demand for private bathrooms and kitchens (read: more expensive), is it even practical for universities to build more apartment-style spaces?
  • If more upperclassmen housing is deemed as a potential positive, why aren’t more academic institutions leveraging their land and brand by partnering with private developers to provide upperclassmen on-campus or near-campus housing—meeting student needs in a more market demand-focused and cost-effective way?

While there is not a one-size-fits-all answer for every institution, universities can start to differentiate themselves by addressing fundamental questions internally and with students and potential developer partners. As we enter a new wave of student life, we, as designers, can help institutions see the win-win opportunities in working with developers to maintain a cohesive student experience that is successful for all parties—school, student, and private developer. The P3 diagram has gained incredible momentum in the student housing market during last decade. We may even look back 50 years from now and wonder how we did it any other way.