Campus Advantage turned 15 last month, and 15 years has provided us a lot of time to grow in our expertise and understanding of students and their wants and needs in a housing experience. But the essence of the industry is that it’s ever-changing, as each freshman class is slightly different than the one that came before. The dynamic nature of student housing is why it’s important to keep a yearly pulse on student demographics and psychographics. In order for anyone involved in student housing — whether a real estate developer, property manager or investor — to ensure their properties appeal to current students, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of student’s expectations and motivations.These statistics provide insight into the unique experience of college students today — one that’s more diverse, more digital and increasingly expectant of an off-campus college housing experience that’s conducive for both work and play.
1. Campus visits are crucial in the decision-making process.
According to 2016 research performed by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, 46.7 percent of students considered a campus visit “very important” before selecting a college. That was an all-time high for the survey, first conducted in 2003.
Campus visits allow students to get a firsthand view of walkability, the current student class, the social scene and the college town as a whole to determine if it’s the right fit for them. In this visit, students will likely also get a feel for the different housing options that are available — and if housing is overcrowded, unkempt or outdated, it might deter college-goers from selecting that university.
2. Students have more distractions than ever in the classroom.
Students today spend a self-estimated average of 20 percent of their class time on smartphones and digital devices, according to a study by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
3. The average time that students spend on social networks has risen to an all-time high.
From 2007 to 2015 in the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s study, about a quarter of college students consistently reported that they spend at least six hours a week on social media. In 2016, that number jumped to 40.9 percent, an almost 14 point increase.
4. Ironically, students don’t rely heavily on social media to research their housing options.
In a study by Catalyst, 73 percent of students said they don’t use social networks to search for apartments. Instead, they primarily use online search (48 percent), with 78 percent reporting that online ratings and reviews played a strong role in their decision to visit a property.
5. Despite an always-on society and the wireless lifestyle of modern students, college-goers still greatly value spending quality time with their friends.
75.2 percent of students who spent at least six hours a week on social media also spent at least six hours with friends in person.
6. Student populations are becoming more diverse.
According to reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, an increasing number of African American and Hispanic students are attending college. From 2000 to 2015, the percentage of African American students attending college rose from 11.7 to 14.1 percent, and the percentage of Hispanic students showed an even larger increase, rising from 9.9 to 17.3 percent.
7. Many students are staying closer to home.
In 2016, 37.9 percent of students attended a college within 50 miles of their permanent residence. Additionally, almost one-fifth of students said that they planned on living with their family during their first year in college.
8. First-generation students (those that are the first in their family to attend college) are less likely to attend their number one choice of university, once accepted.
First-generation students have a unique decision-making process as compared to continuing-generation students. While they are nearly as likely to be accepted to their first choice (73.8 percent) as their continuing-generation peers (74.8 percent), they are less likely to attend their first-choice university. First-generation students consider cost and being offered financial aid very important (56.1 percent and 58.2 percent, respectively). In contrast, just 45.1 percent of continuing-generation students consider cost very important, and 43.9 percent consider being offered financial aid very important.
9. Students want housing that has easy access to the things they care about.
Proximity to campus is important, as well as a property that has modern amenities and is close to shopping and dining areas, gyms and other frequently visited haunts. This is of particular importance to students who don’t have a car and must walk, bike or take public transit to get around.
10. They also desire housing with both basic and more upscale amenities.
Students want their college residence to feel like a second home, fully equipped for their needs. Multiple bathrooms, on-site laundry, furnished rooms and dishwashers are an expectation that many have when looking for off-site housing.
Students vary in demographics, characteristics and motivations with every new semester — the statistics above will shape the student housing industry in coming years. For property owners and managers, it is particularly important to note that students consider a campus visit as very important to their ultimate decision in selecting a college, suggesting that the appearance and look and feel of your property should always be at its best in order to attract students. It also goes without saying that student expectations for proximity to the school and proximity to entertainment, as well as high-quality amenities, should be considered in the development of all properties. Students themselves are the most indicative of what’s to come in student housing — being mindful of their needs, motivations and expectations will ensure that property owners are prepared for change.