Leveraging Student Housing to Spark Enrollment

July 1, 2019 |

Updated August 4, 2021

4 minutes

In the midst of America’s current affordable housing crisis, colleges and universities are facing a demon of their own; an enrollment crisis.

While college enrollment overall is up, the significance of a diploma has dramatically decreased with the increasing amount of post-secondary options, such as trade schools. Less-selective universities are struggling to compete with the highly-respected stature Power 5 institutions hold within the workforce.

In fact, research shows that average annual earnings after attending the University of Michigan are $60,100, whereas by contrast, Eastern Michigan University graduates earn an average of $37,500 annually - nearly 38 percent less. Prospective students are flocking to more promising communities of scholars, or directly to the workplace, causing an increase of "depopulation" throughout smaller academic institutions.

Coinciding with this trend, major developers in the student housing sector tend to focus on top tier, four-year institutions, given the added security surrounding the investment. This has created a unique niche within the industry, specifically amongst emerging universities with student enrollments of 12,000 to 20,000. Often overlooked, these institutions represent ample opportunity for third-party investors given the lack of on-campus housing and affordable off-campus housing options for students.

With college enrollment projected to grow by 15 percent by 2025, it is becoming increasingly critical for universities to seek innovative solutions to help attract students and maintain steady enrollment.

Thankfully, these institutions can combat this crisis by leveraging partnerships to develop affordable student housing options that have the ability to spark enrollment in the following three ways.

Attract Prospective Students

First and foremost, student housing can play a significant role in the decision-making process for prospective students. In fact, 9 percent of four-year college students and 12 percent of community college students reported being completely homeless in 2018 - meaning it’s now more important than ever to provide affordable living spaces for students to ensure a positive college experience.

For campuses that do not offer on-campus housing options, partnering with developers to introduce off-campus housing can serve as an excellent recruiting and retention tool for prospective students, and more specifically international students. According to research, nearly 5 percent of all students enrolled in higher-level education in the United States are international students. Offering an affordable housing option near campus can easily persuade prospective students to enroll. In addition, offering innovative housing options with education-focused amenities will allow students at these universities to have the same college experience as those attending Power 5 institutions.

Take a look at The Ohio State University at Marion located in central Ohio. In 2015, 1,083 students were enrolled. Two years later, after the addition of The Annex of Marion, a student housing facility steps from campus, the university experienced a 10 percent increase in enrollment with a total of 1,194 students. Each year, the number of new first year students has risen, gaining a total of 1,692 students with a retention rate nearing 74 percent for 2018. While other components of the university and community have played a role, the addition of The Annex of Marion helped transform The Ohio State University at Marion into a destination campus.

Revitalize University Brand

In addition to attracting prospective students, purpose-built student housing also has the potential to attract numerous retailers and other businesses surrounding the campus, including restaurants and grocers. Many universities today have dormitories built more than two decades ago, meaning facilities and amenities are oftentimes outdated. It’s important to keep in mind that a majority of incoming students fall into Generation Z; therefore, offering spacious housing, communal amenities and smart appliances are essential components in the ideal living arrangements for these prospective students.

Introducing new, modern and innovative developments, or replacing existing structures - like The Annex Of Oshkosh that was once an abandoned factory - can serve as catalysts for economic development. With new space available, retailers jump at the opportunity to connect with younger generations.

“Student housing developments present a tremendous opportunity for not only students and universities, but retailers as well for numerous reasons.” said Dave Claborn, Director of Development & Community Relations of The Ohio State University at Marion. “Retailers typically flock toward college towns and new housing developments to capitalize on the new consumers, as well as workforce opportunities given the high demand for local employment amongst students.”

A new student housing development at Rutgers-Camden reinvigorated retail growth with the addition of three business operations - 7-Eleven, Subway and Three Chiles Grill - while also offering student gathering spaces fit for education purposes. In time, additions like this surrounding campus can revive the overall property value and revitalize the university brand to embody a more advanced, desirable location able to compete with Power 5 institutions.

Cultivate Campus Communities

Today, creating experiences is more important than ever for younger generations. Students not only want a good education, but they long for the full college experience. In addition to offering state-of-the-art technology, collaborative spaces and appropriate retailers, university campuses must cultivate experiences and communities that will support students throughout their college career and overall educational journey.