Extravagance & Luxury: The New Face of College Dorm Living



Today's college students expect to be treated on par with renters if they live on campus and may go elsewhere if they do not get high-quality housing, according CityTownInfo.com. Going "elsewhere" may mean living off campus, but since nearly 70 percent of students rely on living on campus and most freshmen are required to, students are considering housing options as a major factor in selecting the school they attend. Colleges have realized that the old-style dorms with shared bedrooms, shared bathrooms and few amenities are no longer acceptable to prospective students. Many schools now offer luxury living to attract new students, much to the dismay of their parents or whoever has to pay for the rising costs of a college education.

The so-called Echo-boomer generation grew up in a different environment than their Baby Boomer parents. Most Echo-boomers had fewer siblings and more disposable income, leading to higher expectations of privacy and comfort. Whereas a Baby Boomer may have been used to sharing a bedroom with at least one sibling and a bathroom with his entire family, most Echo-boomers had their own room and possibly their own bathroom throughout their childhood. Echo-boomers want the same or better living conditions in college.

Many universities are addressing the issue of housing by creating new residential facilities with apartment-style suites, more amenities, greater privacy, and more attractive designs than old-school dorms. Some schools are basing their designs on hotels. However, many schools cannot afford to abandon their existing dorms and student apartments in favor of building luxury housing. These schools are instead renovating their dorms and apartments to be more up-scale and give students more privacy.

Kennesaw State is an example of an institution that is both updating their current housing and building new complexes. The school decided to renovate their older apartment complex and create four new dormitory complexes. Around 3,500 students live on campus and thanks to the move toward luxury living, all of them have their own bedroom. Around two-thirds of the on campus students also have their own bathroom. Of the students who do share a bathroom, they only do so with one other student, a far cry from a time when students shared a communal bathroom with their entire floor.

Another thing of the past is a student lounge on each floor equipped with a single television. Kennesaw State added a plug and play room to every floor of their freshman dorms. The rooms have three big screen TVs each and plug ins for electronics. Video games anyone?
Ann Bailey, housing director at Mississippi State University, says that students arrive expecting “ a hotel, or a condominium, or a resort-type experience.” They want their own room, their own bathroom and connectivity options. Most dorms have high speed Internet access and it is not just for online studying. Computer games anyone?

What is all this luxury living doing to costs? Well they are increasing of course. According to TheFiscalTimes.com, the average cost of room and board at a public four-year school increased by around 3 percent more than the inflation rate from 2001 to 2011. However, some of the housing costs may also be spilling over into tuition fees, which have increased by nearly 6 percent above inflation in the past 10 years.

Extravagant luxury living may be expensive, but it is worth the price. Luxury student housing is likely college students last chance to live well for awhile. Students know that after graduation, they are looking at low-paying, entry level jobs, if they can find a job, which will likely mean cramped living spaces shared with multiple roommates, unless they move back home. Parents are paying for their kids to get a taste of the good life, something they probably will not be able to afford themselves until their 30s.

So just how luxurious does student housing get? The University of Southern California says pretty luxurious. USC has a new luxury apartment complex near campus in LA called West 27th Place that puts most condos to shame. The seven-story, 161-unit, Spanish Colonial-style complex has fountains, granite counter tops, tiled roofs, big screen, high-definition TVs, sound-deadening doors and windows seals, and immaculate landscaping, according to LATimes.com. Students also have access to a gym and a walk-in tanning booth, something that is highly needed in Southern California where it is only sunny on almost every day of the year. But luxury is not about need; it is about extravagance.

Students at nearby UC Riverside may have USC beat. Their new on campus Camino del Sol complex features a resort-style pool complete with sun deck and cabanas. The students also have a hot tub, fitness center, billiards, and barbecues.

Then again, when students get sick, the management at West 27th Place delivers a get-well package. The students have in-room and communal Wi-Fi as well as hard-wiring for Internet access and satellite TV. They also have study rooms on each floor, bicycle parking, laundry, and a club room.

Pricing reflects the luxury lifestyle. A one-bedroom unit at West 27th Place is around $2,500 a month. Two students may share one unit. For a four-bedroom, two-bath unit split between eight students, the cost comes out to $680 per person each month. Parking is extra.

Southern California is not the only place with luxury student housing. The top 5 luxury dorms as rated by Princeton Review include two schools in Massachusetts, one in Maryland, one in Vermont, and only one California.

The top rated school in 2010 was Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The 2010 room and board cost was $12,622 per school year. Tuition and fees equaled $37,758. One catch, Smith College is an all-women college. Students at the liberal arts school can enjoy weekly tea parties and candlelit dinners with faculty in their spacious brick or wood-frame housing. The campus boasts a pond and waterfall.

Number 2 on the list is Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. Room and board in 2010 was only $9,740 per year. Tuition and fees were $36,240. Dorms have attractive features like walk-in closets, but it is perhaps access to the 10 on campus restaurants that sell the idea of luxury living. Students can also take advantage of catering services.

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham is Massachusetts second appearance on the list of best dorms. However, students are required to live on campus so the college has a major incentive to make the dorms attractive living spaces. Room and board at the time of the review was $13,485. Tuition and fees was $37,900 per year. In return, students get private bathrooms, AC, cable, and fireplaces in the dorm lounges. Students can also order from the Just-In-Time Cooking service or eat off the dining hall menus that includes vegan/vegetarian and other healthy eat choices.

Scripps College in Claremont, California ranked number 4. Tuition fees were $37,950 and room and board cost $12,600. Scripps is an all-women college too. Their dorms have community living rooms with fireplaces and a grand piano. Students get their own bathrooms, walk-in closets and rooms with private balconies.

Bennington College named for the Vermont town it resides in ranked number 5 on the best of list. The campus looks like a country club and dorms are called houses. Students can choose from a range of architectural styles for their house. Some have a modern look while others are traditional New England designs. Most of the college's houses have their own kitchen and living room with a fireplace. Dining halls have a variety of food choices, including all types of exotic cuisine and vegan/vegetarian entrees. Room and board for a house was listed at only $11,100 per year. The tuition and fees was $39,760.

For people who live on campus and want to remain on campus, some luxury apartments even have retail stores on the main floor with goods aimed to appeal to college students, according to CampusCircle.com.

Parents may lament that their old-school cement brick dorms were good enough for them so they should be good enough for their offspring, though likely this sentiment stems from the pricing and not a true desire to hear their kids complain daily about living in a dorm like their parents had. The good news is that parents may be able to benefit from luxury student apartments, according to YCharts.com.

Parents should consider investing in the companies that build and maintain these extravagant structures. The American Campus Communities is profiting the most from luxury college housing. The company must pay out 90 percent of its net income to investors. The return for shareholders in the past year was 32 percent. Parents may feel less anxious about not only investing in their children's futures, but also in a profitable business that could bring significant returns.

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