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Colleges sweeten the deal for students with apartments, suites

December 13, 2003|by JUDY LIN

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Forget flip flops and shower caddies. Today's college students are demanding private bathrooms and more living space - and they're getting it.

Across the nation, colleges and universities are building new residential facilities that cater to every student's desire, from high-speed Internet connections and cable television to their own bedrooms in apartments and suites.

Duquesne University recently entered into an agreement to purchase an 850-bed apartment tower, and housing officials are mulling over plans to add six floors to a suite-style dorm at the urban campus in Pittsburgh.

At Penn State, officials took out a $75 million bond to construct housing for 800 juniors and seniors at its University Park campus. The dorms will feature clusters of single rooms with private baths around common living and study areas.

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"Twenty years ago, students were expected to come in and share a room and share a bathroom down the hall with 40 people," said Michelle Fryling, a spokeswoman for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, about 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

"Many of today's students may never have shared a room with a brother or sister, and they have different expectations of what residence hall life should be," she said.

And construction isn't limited to dorms: Instead of banning cars for freshmen, West Chester University of Pennsylvania is putting up two student parking lots. Many universities are investing in recreation centers with swimming pools and tennis courts.

"It's surprising if they're not building a new rec center," said Lander Medlin, executive vice president of the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers.

Medlin says the college building boom comes as higher education institutions compete for students. According to a survey by the American School & University's magazine, the median cost per square foot to construct a new residence hall in 2002 reached $150, compared to $82 in 1993.

Administrators believe the construction will pay off. About 1,800 students entered into a lottery for the 800 new spaces at Penn State, said Lynn DuBois, associated director of housing.

"Students today come from households where they're used to having more space. That translates to having more space in colleges," said Meg Lauerman, a spokeswoman for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which plans to add 1,000 beds in new apartments because market research says students who live on campus are more likely to graduate and earn better grades.

"And we know from recruiting experience that college students are interested in living facilities," Lauerman said. "It does factor in to their decision."

And don't forget the meal plan. Michael Hager, Nebraska's associate director of housing administration, says the university recently renovated one dining hall from a buffet-style cafeteria to a market-style eatery where students can custom order the meat in a Mongolian grill plate to vegetarian pizza freshly baked in a wood oven.

All the pressure to spend has some smaller private colleges worried they can't compete with bigger public universities.

"It troubles some people, but the reality is that state-subsidized public institutions aggressively do this, and it can put pressure on a private institution to have to keep up," said Don Francis of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania.

To offset some of the costs, some institutions have turned to privatized housing projects, inviting developers on campus to build apartments and townhouses. California University of Pennsylvania was the first in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's 14-university group to do it.

California president Angelo Armenti said the dorms from the $36-million project will be among the best in the nation and should help to attract new students. They are the first residence halls to be built on campus in more than 30 years.

At West Chester University of Pennsylvania, a $42.3 million bond was issued to build two student housing projects. One is an apartment-style facility with conference rooms, coffee bar, fitness center and computer lab. The other is a suite-style facility.

"The best explanation is that the family structure is smaller than it used to be, and so they come from having their own room and they don't understand group housing," Medlin said. "It's clearly a change in their culture, and the experience based on having their own room and their own space and some level of privacy."

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