Future of Student Needs

Spaces, Tools and Templates

Supporting Students Where They Live

One of the important needs we expect future students to have is for “Spaces, tools, and templates,” the main idea being that “Students need physical and virtual supportive environments and tools for pursuing and acquiring knowledge and skills.” We hear a lot about the virtual academic support system in higher ed. A new study says the online education market is valued at over $1B, a “booming” market if there ever was one. But student life is much more than its digital incarnation, and we believe that even in 2025 the physical world will matter.

In fact, one of the most critical physical environments for students is the home environment itself, either the dorm or off-campus housing. In terms of architectural trends, student housing seems to be moving in the same direction as society in general: high density and walkability are in demand. Midrise and even highrise buildings are contributing to a ‘vertical’ trend in dorm design.

Another notable trend in the built environment is the emergence of more “resort like” accommodations. Infinity pools, lazy rivers, frozen yogurt on-site and laundry services are some of the amenities now gaining traction in student housing.

One perspective is that “…universities have rushed to install amenities for the top tier, knowing that it’s one way to compensate for the lack of an Ivy League name.” While comfort and aesthetics are excellent strategies to create strong physical environments that nurture student success, the high cost of luxury college living ($1000-$1200/month) is clearly aimed at the economically advantaged.

The fact that this new accommodations “arms race” is being waged “in dorm rooms, rather than in academics,” is a signal with mixed implications. On the one hand, we’re all for luxury digs for students, and the “need” we identified in the study supports the idea that student living space affects student success. On the other hand, structuralizing economic inequality in universities is not going to improve access to college for those who need it most. The idea of colleges competing to win the luxury consumer seems like a step in the wrong direction, erecting more barriers to social mobility rather than knocking them down.