What is your image of what a college lifestyle is supposed to be, especially college housing? In decades past, students hunkered down in bunk beds, most often with two to four people in a tiny room, and gladly ate ramen or beans and rice as they studied (or even partied) their way through college.
But these days, many residential units for students seem to mirror—or even top—what most American kids experience at home.
The New York Times has written about some of the ways that student housing luxuries now overshadow studying in certain off-campus housing complexes in many college towns. The Times highlighted the fact that amid so much competition, housing developers are looking for ways to set their student housing units apart.
“That has led to the construction of complexes with tanning salons; spas offering manicures, pedicures, facials and massages; 24-hour workout rooms with virtual trainers; and outdoor pools with bars and cabanas. There are washers and dryers that send text messages when a cycle is complete, and exercise machines that allow users to check their e-mail,” the Times noted.
Luxury College Housing Units On the Rise
Where are all these fancy off-campus housing units?
One of them opened in 2013 in Austin, Texas—the city where my daughter happens to be headed off this week to begin her freshman year in college. A private developer in Austin called American Campus Communities, which owns or manages nearly 200 properties, constructed the new 17-story complex, called Callaway House.
As I explained in College Secrets, to make the facility a standout, the developer teamed up with a network service provider to outfit this student housing complex with Internet speeds of up to one-gigabit per resident.
One gigabit is about 100 times faster than the average home cable-modem connection. That lightning-fast one gigabit Internet service is believed to be the first of its kind in a residence hall in the United States.
As the Chronicle of Higher Education noted, Callaway House also boasts an array of other amenities, including “a rooftop fitness center, a swimming pool, and a full-service dining facility. The building has 661 beds in regular suites and 92 beds in ‘penthouse’ units on the top two floors, where students are promised ‘upgraded interior finishes,’ ‘wow-inspiring views,’ and ‘the privacy and lifestyle you deserve.’ ”
Despite all these cushy amenities, some educators say there’s something decidedly lacking in many upscale off-campus student properties: the kind of housing environment typically found on a college or university campus, including work spaces and study rooms—not to mention libraries, halls and auditorium-style gathering places that can host lectures or promote lively academic discussions.
In other words, there’s often not a whole lot of intellectual stimulation going on in a luxury off-campus housing complex.
And with colleges and universities increasingly cracking down on underage drinking, some parents believe that certain students just want to live off campus in order to have the freedom to consume alcohol.
Needless to say: my daughter won’t be residing in some high-end, off-campus digs. Thankfully, she got accepted into the Business Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin and she’ll be staying in one of the university’s honors dorms.
And yes, she will have a roommate too. No need to splurge and spend money unnecessarily (in my opinion) on the extra cost of living solo.
Posh Dorms on Some Campuses Too
But on campus, the race is also on at many colleges and universities that want to build posh dorms.
These college-based dorms may not have some of the over-the-top amenities as off-campus housing providers boast—like rooftop pools, on-site restaurants or bars, and apartments decked out with flat-screen TVs and granite countertops. But schools are upgrading dramatically to try to capture what they think students and parents want and demand.
From the standpoint of many schools, they feel it’s in their best interest to stay one step ahead in the luxury dorm race. Without top-notch residential facilities, or at least very livable modern housing units, schools think students will be turned off.
I can’t say that I disagree with that notion, based on personal experience, conversations with students, and research into this topic. However, I believe it’s a mistake for students to try to upgrade their lifestyles when they venture off to college. In my view, fancy luxuries and upscale amenities should come much later—as in, after a student graduates and gets a job.
Nevertheless, on the numerous campus tours we took, my teen daughter was quick to point out any subpar dorms. She also lit up like a firecracker at seeing high-end dorms, like the plush facilities at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus.
Fordham opened the doors to brand new, penthouse level apartments/dorms in the fall of 2014. The dorms are housed in a modern, eco-friendly residential tower that accommodates 400 undergraduate students. The new building touts modern bedroom suites, common living spaces, study lounges, a movie theatre, a dining hall, and, naturally, to-die-for views of New York City. Those fabulous digs, as you might suspect, also come at a hefty price.
Double or triple room rates at the New Residence Hall at Lincoln Center, which only houses first-year students, were set at $11,545 for the 2014-2015 academic year. Freshman meal plans ranged from $5,350 to $6,250 per school year, bringing total room and board expenses to as much as $17,795.
Housing at Fordham’s older Lincoln Center residential facility—which is called McMahon Hall and is only for sophomores, juniors, seniors, law and graduate students—features fully furnished two- and three-bedroom apartments with living rooms.
Room rates alone there for 2014-2015 were $14,630 for a double room and $17,095 for a single room, making Fordham one of the priciest residential campuses in America.
Student Preferences Surveyed
Fordham and other colleges around the country are no doubt aware of research into dorms and student preferences.
One study published by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers put it bluntly. It stated that “poorly maintained or inadequate residential facilities” was the number-one reason students rejected enrolling at institutions.
With that kind of information in the back—no, make that the forefront—of campus administrators’ minds, I expect upgraded dorms to become more of a trend in the years ahead. That’s almost certain to be the case at America’s top tier colleges and universities, where housing fees continue to climb.
For these reasons, families should re-think demanding that colleges have “better lifestyle” features, such as “fancier meals, food courts and recreational amenities like climbing walls,” says economist and college expert Lucie Lapovsky.
She’s right, especially if students and parents want to help keep college costs from rising even further.
Think about it like this: It was perfectly fine for Beyoncé to sing “Let me upgrade you.” (I love that song!) But for millions of college students in the U.S., stop wasting thousands of dollars trying to upgrade your lifestyle! Instead, it’s time to face the music and start singing another tune—something more like, Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar.”
After all, college is that time in your life when you’ll likely already be broke.
No need to make a tough situation even more difficult, by spending excessively on housing you can’t afford.