For Gen Z, It’s a New Era In Student Housing

Every year across the country, families pack up the car to move their freshmen off to college. This year, parents might open up the doors to their student’s room and gasp before launching into a “back in my day” speech. And well they should. With the last millennials leaving college, student housing is taking a dramatic turn in terms of technology, design, and amenities as Generation Z (Gen Z), also known as the iGeneration, bring their own expectations and experiences to campus. Gone are the days where two bunks bolted to a cinderblock wall with no windows or air-conditioning was considered adequate. Today, Gen Z students are digital natives who require reliable access to their technology. They also care deeply about sustainability and green design, and have more clearly defined lifestyle preferences than the previous generation. As a result, student residences are increasingly looking more like luxury apartments than their dormitory ancestors just a few decades ago.

In the US, where most colleges and universities feature on campus housing, students are expecting certain features and amenities to match their lifestyle. The past few years have seen some new trends in student housing, most notably increased student interest in privacy, technology, sustainability, and community focused design. 

In an interview discussing their new student residence on San Diego State University’s (SDSU) campus, Fred Pierce, president and CEO of Pierce Education properties, said, “Amenities have always been a plus, but now we’re seeing amenities on steroids—there’s a bit of an amenities arms race going on, and it’s intensified in the last five to 10 years,” adding that students “certainly have a quality of living unlike those students before them.” This is a catch-22. Students are suffering from the sky rocketing price of college tuition, and in turn expecting amenities and services like new residences in order to make their money more worthwhile. Unfortunately, building and upgrading these residences costs colleges millions of dollars which in turn translate to higher costs for students.

Still, many of these trends are not seen as luxuries by these students, but rather basic expectations from their home life. Privacy, for example, is a prime consideration for Gen Z students, many of whom have never had to share a room before. They have also gotten used to the fast, reliable home wifi for all their connected devices, as well as plenty of outlets to keep these devices charged. 

In terms of construction technology, student housing is following urban trends of mid-rise steel and concrete units which can hold more people and are more efficient with space. On US style campuses, where real-estate is less of a premium, out-door amenities like pools help attract students, while urban residences include multi-purpose indoor spaces for cooking, entertainment, and community building. These spaces reflect both the student’s desire for community, as well as universities recognition that a strong student community translates to a strong retention rate.

iGeneration students are also deeply passionate about the environment and mindful of their impact and carbon foot print. Touting a LEEDs certification isn’t good enough anymore. Student residences are increasingly becoming poster children for modern, green design, as well as spaces that can contribute to improving sustainability and educating others. From community gardens, to high efficiency appliances and LED lighting, these residences are becoming smarter, greener, and more beautifully designed.

In Europe, where campuses are typically urban and student residences are often repurposed apartment buildings, the expectations of Gen Z students are having a noticeable impact on city housing developers. Because many of the Gen Z student housing requirements are so similar to the co-living movement that the co-living trend is being co-opted by student housing developers. Philip Hillman, JLL’s international director of student housing, agrees saying, “the student accommodation sector has been transformed by a new generation of students who have grown accustomed to higher levels of serviced accommodation than has previously been available.” He goes on to say that “modern student housing has a greater emphasis on communal areas, whether that is for dining space, living or leisure use. This is also the standard template for co-living developments,” he explained. 

Student housing is a growing market, and even a potentially smart investment opportunity. This, combined with increasingly urban campuses and the similarity between Gen Z student housing requirements and the co-living model, has led to increasingly blurred lines. Never before have student residences been so considerate of student wishes, or so well designed and connected. In this area at least, it looks like a good time to be a Gen Z student.


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