The Bisnow National Student Housing Conference in Philadelphia was well attended and generally positive in its outlook toward the health of student housing in the post-pandemic era. Conference speakers confirmed that students prefer on-campus living with bigger social spaces, less resort-style amenities, and a greater focus on affordability.

In this plan for student housing, we emphasized green space and community-centric living.

Operations of facilities with reduced staff and a greater reliance on technology is the new normal. Supply chain shortages and the reduced labor pool have affected this sector like all others but are expected to be relatively short-lived. Things should return to relative normalcy in late 2022.

Modular and light gauge metal systems gained in popularity but are generally not considered a long-term solution for increased construction cost and the volatility of the market.

While the 4,000 higher education institutions in the USA saw a 6.5% decline in enrollment, the top 200 schools have seen an increase. Schools with lower acceptance rates have greater flexibility to adjust enrollment for market conditions, creating a much more attractive risk profile to capital investment, while smaller colleges can yield higher cap rates as much as 1.25 basis points in selected underserved markets.

The 18–24-year-old demographic is smaller nationally, but the number by percentage attending higher educational institutions has increased, so development demand continues to be strong in this market sector. While market rate multi-family units saw an increase in rents of 6%-11% in Q2-Q3 of 2021, student housing only increased rents by 2% per unit, largely because these rates are adjusted annually verses market rate units which can adjust rents daily.

Pre-Covid trends that continue to accelerate:

  • More privacy
  • Greater number of bathrooms
  • “College house model” with more social spaces
  • Flexibility between rental/graduate level units
  • Branded identity as a recruitment tool
  • Lower maintenance features
  • Indoor/outdoor spaces with larger openings
  • Mechanical systems with greater air filtration

Trends that have become the new normal include emphasis on building community, culture, and collaboration, while treating students as mature adults by respecting their needs and desires. Bed bath parity, technology, affordability, and appropriate head-to-head distance of bedrooms will be the basic expectations, while the provision of increased indoor/outdoor social spaces that engage a greater variety of cohorts in mixed-use environments will continue to create differentiation.

The world of student housing has radically changed because of the pandemic. We look forward to helping our clients navigate the challenges of changing demands, technological advancement, and the uncertainty of cost and supply chain while designing spaces that contribute to student success and overall wellness.