Responding to Students’ Needs: Insights From an Industry Veteran
Bromley Cos.' Ed Coyne explores how preferences have evolved.
To stay competitive, both on- and off-campus student housing communities need to constantly adapt to students’ shifting needs and wants. Today, aspects such technology and smart living, a greater focus on sustainability and customized amenities are becoming increasingly important to all students.
With an extensive background in student housing, Bromley Cos. Senior Vice President Ed Coyne has witnessed the evolution of the trends shaping the industry in the past decades. To cater to students’ changing needs, Bromley has begun multiple renovations this summer, including at Bromley Hall, a 13-story student community on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill.
In the interview below, Coyne talks about some of the most sought-after amenities that young residents expect to find at student housing properties, while also touching on the impact of demographic projections on student housing demand.
How has on- and off-campus student housing development evolved over the past decade across the U.S.?
Coyne: Over the last decade, off-campus student housing has grown extensively across the U.S. There has been some on-campus growth as well, but not near the level of off-campus housing. The major focus in on-campus housing has been more about updating inventory rather than increasing the total number of units, in order to remain competitive with the new product in the market.
How do you think the changing demographics will impact student housing demand in 2023 and beyond?
Coyne: The demographic change most likely to impact the industry is the decline in the U.S. birthrate, which we expect to affect college enrollment numbers soon. Universities have been preparing for an ‘enrollment cliff’ to start around 2025, but the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated enrollment drops at least at some university campuses. This could obviously increase competition in student housing, as demand could fall below the growing supply levels, but I think that is going to vary from university to university. We continue to remain an investor in the student housing sector and are looking to grow our portfolio in the coming years.
Having these changing demographics in mind, are there any emerging student housing markets across the country that we should keep an eye on?
Coyne: I think that off-campus housing, especially on larger campuses, is still something to keep an eye on. Additionally, it will be important for college housing to offer amenities and specialized housing that will meet students’ needs to compete in the market.
Please tell us more about how students’ preferences have evolved in the past few years. Are there any community amenities that they just can’t live without today?
Coyne: Over the last few years we’ve observed students wanting more personal space, especially in their living areas, including larger study areas and more outside space. Students also seem to be prioritizing self-care, and they are looking for wellness and recreation spaces where they can relax or play games and connect with others.
The one thing students cannot live without, though, is high-speed building-wide Wi-Fi. It is increasingly important for students’ personal and academic use, and the number of wireless devices they bring with them seems to increase every year. Students want to be able to roam the building and move from space to space while seamlessly maintaining that connection. And one last thing: ice machines. We have seen more and more requests from residents for ice machines.
What role does sustainability play in the student housing sector today? Are students asking about a community’s environmentally friendly characteristics when they apply for residency?
Coyne: More students are environmentally aware, and they are looking for housing options that align with their values. I think that owners and building managers are creating more sustainable living environments as a result. We have been working to find ways we can improve our energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint across our portfolio, even in small ways, like introducing new re-useable takeaway containers in the dining hall.
Besides the Bromley Hall renovation, what else do you have planned for the student housing communities you operate? How busy is this summer for Bromley?
Coyne: In addition to our renovations, we will also continue to evaluate operations such as adding amenities that our community members have requested, including extending dining hours and adding recreational equipment. Summers are always busy at Bromley Hall, perhaps even busier than the academic year. In addition to the large number of renovations planned, we have also remained fully operational for most of the summer by housing different sports camps in our portfolio.
To what extent do you expect the current economic uncertainty to impact the student housing sector? What do historical trends tell us about where the market might be headed?
Coyne: Through our 50 years in the student housing business, we have seen the sector as less vulnerable to economic changes, especially in markets where the university has strong, long-term stability. I think the student housing market, especially the off-campus housing market, is still heading upwards and will continue to see growth over the next few years. That said, the market is likely to grow even more competitive in the coming years, and our primary focus will be to continue to meet students’ ever-evolving needs in a post-pandemic environment.