Wireless internet access? That’s almost a given. But today’s college dormitories also increasingly feature such other amenities as large-screen, high-definition TVs in lounges, swipe-card access to dorm rooms, ergonomically correct beds, and even heated swimming pools as colleges face growing competition to attract students.
Gene Clark’s college days were over more than 20 years ago. But he’s considering going back after seeing his daughter’s new stylish, high-end dorm at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“It’s like a hotel. It smells like a new car. And she’s got a swimming pool? We don’t have a swimming pool at home,” Clark said. “I need to go back to college.”
Oak Hall, the university’s new, $26 million state-of-the-art residence hall, opened Aug. 17. Students hoisted boxes and suitcases of belongings into high-tech elevators that talk in a friendly voice and settled into their new digs before classes started Aug. 21.
“I saw the old dorms on campus and knew I had to live here. It’s too cool,” said Caiti Clark, an 18-year-old freshman from O’Fallon, Ill. “It feels really nice and comfortable. It’s a lot nicer than any of my other college friends’ places.”
Campus living is moving into an age where a wireless internet connection is just as important as running water. Gone are the days where four walls and a bed were the college dorm standard. At Oak Hall, the nearly 300 beds in the building are ergonomically correct.
When Clark, a marketing major, arrived Aug. 17, she used a hotel-style swipe card to access a suite and her private room. A furnished refrigerator, microwave, and wardrobe closet awaited her on move-in day.
“We’re seeing a rise in more apartment-style and high-end dorms across the country,” said James Baumann, a spokesman for the Association of College and University Housing Officers International. “Schools have found they have to up the ante a little bit in terms of the amenities if they want students to stay on campus.”
The six-story coed dorm and its tall, loft-like ceilings offer four-bedroom suites, and each resident has a private room and a large bathroom to share. There’s a convenience store in the building’s lobby that’s open late, a heated pool, and exercise and game rooms. Earlier this year, Baumann’s organization launched the 21st Century Project, a partnership that pulls together housing officers, administrators, students, and architects to discuss what residence halls will need to provide students in the future. The project has launched a design competition to encourage creative ideas for the “dorm of the future.” Across the board, Baumann said, college students from the MySpace generation want their own space.
“Students kind of want more freedom and privacy. They want to truly feel like adults and have adult luxuries,” said Michael Marshall, a student at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
Marshall, 21, is chairman of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, a student-run organization that brings together residence-hall students from campuses around the country to share ideas on creating better living spaces for college kids.
“Students who come from more affluent upbringings want college to feel like home and have all of those nice things,” he said.
One lounge at Oak Hall has a 60-inch, high-definition plasma TV and a set of reclining chairs equipped with surround sound. There’s also a communal designer kitchen. From 2000 to 2012, college enrollment will jump between 12 percent and 19 percent–or up to 18 million more students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Universities know that to compete in that growing marketplace, offering a good education is not enough.
“On-campus housing is vital to the sustained success of higher-education institutions,” said University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Tom George.