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Student Housing Is Poised To Rebound, But Demand Points To On-Campus Preference

As colleges and universities begin to prepare for a fall semester with greater numbers of students on campus, the spotlight is on student housing. Experts from three Southern California universities are seeing increased demand for student housing as students seek to reclaim the traditional college experience. 

Pepperdine University

California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo has been open to students for the past year but has seen a huge boost in the number of students signed up for housing.

Last year, the school’s housing was at about 62% capacity. Now, housing on and off campus is expected to be full, according to Cal Poly Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Director of University Housing Jo Campbell, who spoke at the Bisnow Southern California Student Housing and Higher Education digital summit on Tuesday. 

Officials from Claremont McKenna College and Pepperdine University reported similar situations for the fall semester. Claremont McKenna had offered limited on-campus housing and off-campus apartments during the past year but is now expecting maximum occupancy in student housing for the fall semester due to a convergence of spillover factors from the coronavirus pandemic year.

Some students who were expecting to do a study abroad program can’t go because their program isn't running, others who would have normally gone on a study abroad program aren’t interested in traveling right now, and the freshman class has not seen the usual drop-off rate, so there are more students moving on to the second year than would normally be expected, Claremont McKenna College Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Jenny Guyett said.

A big change is that many students this year seem to prefer on-campus housing to off-campus. Guyett said on-campus demand this year is higher than the school saw in 2019.

Claremont McKenna is at capacity for on-campus housing and has secured a master lease with an off-campus apartment complex in order to have space for students, but “it’s not where the students want to be. They want to be on-campus coming out of this pandemic,” Guyett said. 

At Pepperdine University, similar student preferences are playing out, according to Association Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Housing Operations Robin Gore. Housing is at capacity, and the school is looking for beds for about 200 students, including pursuing contracts with hotels in the area to house them, but securing those accommodations has been a challenge. 

“Our students really want to be on campus. They want an on-campus — normal, is what they’re saying — experience,” Gore said. 

A Yardi Matrix national report on student housing published earlier this month looked at off-campus housing and found that pre-leasing for the fall 2021 term was at 58.6% for surveyed schools, approximately 4.2% below 2020’s for the same time last year and 5.8% below 2019’s. But the report noted an anticipated increase in off-campus demand in the months to come.

"Many factors are pointing to increased student housing demand, fueled by students who took a gap year now enrolling in four-year institutions, new high school graduates, and the gradual return of international students,” according to the report. 

Campbell, Guyett and Gore spoke on the Bisnow panel along with The Scion Group Senior Project Executive Ann Volz and moderator Newmark Vice Chairman and Head of Student Housing Ryan Lang.