Daily Dispatches
Shocker Hall at Wichita State University.
Associated Press/Photo by Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle
Shocker Hall at Wichita State University.

Are colleges headed for a campus housing bubble?

Education

Smith College is selling an on-campus house for $1—but there’s a catch.

The buyer must pay to move the historic mid-1800’s house off campus at an estimated cost of about $70,000. Smith plans to build apartment-style housing for upperclassmen where the home now stands.

And Smith isn’t the only university looking for more space for new housing. While other colleges and universities across the nation may not have historical buildings they must move, many are demolishing aging residence halls in the midst of a campus housing boom. They are replacing outdated buildings with gleaming facilities designed with technology and other comforts aimed at attracting increasingly demanding students.

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New facilities are geared to handle laptops, smartphones, and tablets, offering Wi-Fi connectivity and extra room outlets. Suites housing two or more people—with a shared bathroom instead of communal ones—also are popular. Some of the new halls feature computer labs, study centers, cafés, and even gaming rooms.

Fifty-two new residence halls to house 19,000 students at private and public schools across the country opened last year or will open this year, with a price tag of more than $2 billion, according to Paul Abramson, an analyst with New York-based firm Intelligence in Education, which tracks college construction. 

The surge comes as U.S. schools are simultaneously trying to attract students with the comforts of home while fighting perceptions that tuition hikes and other expenses are putting college out of reach for a growing number of Americans. 

“What we are seeing is a confluence of colleges stuck with a lot of stuff they didn’t want, a demand suddenly from a new group of students beginning to come in—and from their parents for a better student life—and that I think drove a lot of construction,” Abramson said.

But someone has to foot the $2 billion bill. With tuition prices nationwide already skyrocketing, students at Wichita State can expect to pay $10,000-$12,000 per year (including meals) to live in its newest, $65-million residence hall. While he could pay just $6,800 to live in one of the school’s older halls, honors student Derick Holmes plans on living in the new, tech-outfitted building, which will house his honors program and a new café. 

“They have based it around the lives of college students today rather than 60 years ago,” Holmes said.

But higher education is facing a crisis far more serious than aging student housing. A natural decline in population means fewer students will be going to college in the coming years. And with changes in student loan policies, analysts say colleges will have to drop prices to lure customers. Businessman Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks and is known for his role on the TV show Shark Tank believes a cap on student loan guarantees is inevitable. “And when that happens you’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the housing market. … We saw a collapse in the price of housing and we’re going to see that same collapse in the price of student tuition.”

Many high schools are also increasingly offering valuable dual enrollment options where students earn college credits before they even turn 18. These programs can dramatically reduce the post-high school time and expense required to get a college degree. 

Fewer students on campus could leave colleges with their beautiful, state-of-the-art residence halls half empty and a whopping mortgage payment due.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Laura Edghill
Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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