Digital Living on Campus
- By Mike Whaling
- February 1st, 2008
the social and academic aspects of higher education, strong on-campus housing
enhances the college experience for students. However, the number of students
living off campus increases each year. (In 2002, 56 percent of students lived
off campus). Undoubtedly, the appeal of off-campus housing can be persuasive —
forcing students to weigh the pros and cons of the different environments.
Making the decision even more difficult, in recent years private developers
have taken the lead in creating student-centric apartments. For on-campus
housing to remain students’ top choice, administrators need to ensure that
on-campus housing options align with the way today’s students live. One way to
accomplish this is to offer technology-based amenities.
Define and Incorporate the Digital
administrators know, college students lead a lifestyle different than most of
society. Known for their sense of individuality, ability to multi-task, and
expectation of immediacy, today’s college students are always connected… and
always moving. Known as “Generation Next,” these students grew up surrounded by
technology. In fact, 20 percent began using a computer between the ages of five
2006 study conducted by the University
of South Carolina found
that 99 percent of students living on campus had a computer in their residence
hall. In addition, a Student Monitoring study reported that 90 percent of
students have cell phones, 73 percent own televisions, and 76 percent own DVD
players. Other studies have found that at least 25 percent own some kind of
gaming console, while around a third have a digital music player. That being
said, this is obviously a tech-savvy group.
that students are early adopters of the digital lifestyle is only the first
step. That knowledge must translate into changes in student housing design. For
example, we know that virtually every residence hall room will include at least
one television. Today’s flat-panel, wall-mounted TVs are vastly different —
particularly in size and shape — than previous versions. As such, some campus
housing developers are starting to include flat-screen wall-blocking units,
which enable safe mounting, while hiding wires and requiring less space than
traditional television stands.
in mind that a residence hall doesn’t need to be — and more realistically, can
never truly be — “future-proofed,” but some forward-thinking and planning can
ensure that the infrastructure will remain viable even as new technologies and
services are introduced.
Create Stable In-Unit Networks
to say, tech-savvy students expect tech-savvy housing, which begins with a
robust in-unit network. By now, campus IT departments are more than adept at
creating networks in residence halls and throughout campus. However, when it
comes to student housing, it’s critical to remember that students are relying
on the network more than ever. By providing a strong network — with sufficient
bandwidth and plenty of outlets — developers will meet residents’ needs in two
ways. First, students will be able to access the Internet where they want to
use it — particularly in bedrooms and common areas. Second, the functionality
of networked devices will be maximized. It used to be that a printer was the
only piece of equipment that needed to connect with a network. Now, students
want to connect DVRs, media servers, mobile devices, and videogame players. As
such, networks need to be designed so students can “plug and play” — meaning
that when a device is plugged in, it automatically can be found and approved
for access to the network.
Accommodate Shifting Communication Modes
are the days when traditional landlines would run into every bedroom and every
common area in student housing. Today, more than 90 percent of students arrive
at college with cell phones in hand — virtually eliminating the need for
landlines. In fact, New York’s Syracuse University has changed their approach
completely; students wanting landlines now must pay for installation, and then
pay a subscription fee. Another approach — particularly applicable in
suite-style housing — is to offer one landline located in the common area to
serve the suite’s residents.
shift to cell phones has also created the expectation that cellular service is
available virtually everywhere… especially “at home” on campus. “Dead zones”
are unacceptable. As such, forward-thinking developers are installing cell
phone amplifiers. These systems should be designed to “boost” all of the major
wireless carriers. The result of a properly designed amplifier system? Strong
community-wide signal strength… just what students expect.
Listen to Students
no secret: The iPod has helped spark a resurgence in music popularity among
teens and college students. In fact, it’s almost impossible to walk on a
college campus without running into students with those patented white earbuds
in their ears. So, how can on-campus housing administrators tap into the
enormous popularity of portable music players? Besides iTunes U, consider
installing MP3 docking stations in units and common areas. This technological
amenity — which enables multi-room distribution of music and video — is sure to
“wow” students and create a buzz about the benefits of living on campus.
question, loud music is a challenge in student housing. Using fixed speakers in
the units and common areas can minimize some noise disturbances. Private
developers are pre-installing surround sound systems to avoid angering
neighbors. By controlling speaker placement, the loudest speakers are kept away
from shared walls.
Reinventing the Computer Lab
to recent estimates, at least 85 percent of students arrive at college with a
personal computer. As a result, providing a traditional computer lab —
featuring rows of desktop computers — is often unnecessary. Instead, in a 2007
study conducted by the National Multi-Housing Council (NMHC), students said
they would prefer “productivity centers.” Similar to a business center, these
rooms give students access to printing, binding, scanning, and related services
that can be offered for free, or as revenue generators. Other options can
include basic audio and video production tools that enable residents to produce
podcasts and participate in videoconferences.
Combat the Lure of Off-Campus Housing
have a decidedly different perspective on college than their upperclassmen
counterparts. Not surprisingly, this vantage point shapes their student housing
“wish list.” According to that same
study by the NMHC, college freshmen are more concerned with aspects related to
community life. Meanwhile, upperclassmen focus more on practical issues (e.g.,
cost, utilities, maintenance), as well as sports-related amenities.
attractive amenities found in off-campus housing that are not included in most
on-campus housing options are kitchens and clubhouses. In fact, the NMHC study
found that students who lived off-campus cited the kitchen as the most
important room in their apartments. After the kitchen, students cited the
bedroom, bathroom, and living room (in that order) as the next most important
important points to note: Don’t underestimate the number of gadgets that need
to be plugged into college housing facilities. Second, students expect the
freedom to customize their unit by rearranging furniture. That being said,
developers must make a conscious effort to provide enough power and
communications outlets — in the appropriate places — to accommodate students’
tech toys. If off-campus housing offers ample hook-ups, on-campus must as well.
Consider including multiple video and Internet jacks in the main common area/living
room and at least one in each bedroom (for suite-style apartments).
presumed advantage of living off-campus is access to a clubhouse. Today’s
next-generation clubhouses are not the traditional lounge-style room. Instead,
the design focuses on flexibility, giving students the ability to do what they
want, where they want. Clubhouses have evolved into multipurpose spaces for
entertainment and group activities.
student housing is a competitive business, so developers are incorporating high-end
products to attract students. For example, clubhouses may feature iPod-docking
stations, so students can listen to their own music while spending time with
friends. The latest trend in clubhouse design includes gaming rooms. With the
increased popularity of the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360, students want space to
play with their friends online. On-campus housing developers need to consider
providing space in common areas for these entertaining activities — or risk
losing residents to private developers off campus.
Digital Lifestyle Shapes Student Housing
competitive student housing market forces developers, and therefore housing
officers, to provide an amenity-rich experience as a strategy to recruit and
retain students. Part of this strategy needs to focus on technology-based
conveniences — in individual units and throughout common areas. We know that
students adopt technology at a faster rate than almost any other demographic.
As the digital lifestyle continues to evolve — increasing students’
expectations — student housing needs to be equipped to meet their ever-changing
needs and demands.
is the vice president of Business Development manager for InfiniSys Electronic
Architects (www.electronicarchitect.com), an engineering and design firm that
provides technology-based amenity solutions to multifamily developers. Mike is
the creator and administrator of the Multifamily Technology 360° blog
(MultifamilyTechnology.com). He can be reached at 386/236-1530 or