Private On-Campus Housing: A New Chapter in Boston Higher Ed
April 19, 2016
April 19, 2016
Last year my alma mater, Northeastern University, opened a new dormitory called East Village. Beyond adding to the campus’ DNA, it signified a new chapter in the story of Boston higher education.
East Village was the first residence hall built in Boston by a private developer and now more are planned.
Understandably, what’s new can seem scary. Mixing business with education can raise eyebrows, also understandably. But I believe that privatized student housing, which is found elsewhere in the country, can be a good thing for Boston.
Starting with the most obvious benefit, this approach will allow more student housing to get built. This is important for the livelihood of any institution, but it’s particularly significant in light of Mayor Marty Walsh’s goal of creating 16,000 beds for undergraduates and 2,500 for graduate students by 2030. (As of October 2015, more than 9,000 beds are needed to achieve this goal.)
Because of the access to private capital, these projects are more viable. Many schools would like to build new housing as a way to increase prestige, enrollment and, ultimately, revenue, but the funding and interest isn’t always there. Simmons College, for instance, noted in its 2010 Institutional Master Plan Notification Form, that it was resigned to perform “smaller cosmetic upgrade projects… in an effort to maintain student satisfaction with on-campus housing options,” because of an inability to “undertake…larger improvement projects on its residence campus.”
New on-campus dorms also helps to keep students from seeking alternative means of housing, particularly if the school has enough supply to accommodate upperclassmen. This can help stem the tide of students flowing into the local neighborhoods and the ensuing tension that builds when families are forced to put up with the college lifestyle. Additionally, reducing the high demand for housing around campuses, prices will not rise to the degree that families are forced out as is currently happening in Boston—unlike anywhere else. This kind of act of good faith would not be lost on the community or on local politicians.
Building more housing means more schools would be able to offer guaranteed housing and for more years. It’s an attractive incentive to offer prospective students which can help them decide upon a school.
All of this comes with a caveat, however. When schools make the decision to privatize their student housing, be it partially or fully, they should ensure that they maintain control of the building’s operations. A student’s decision to attend a school is based upon an expectation for their experience at the school. How that plays out will be determined by a wide variety of factors, but who runs their residence hall should not be one of them. The state system of Georgia privatized some of their student housing in a massive public-private partnership with our client, Corvias Campus Living, in part because of that belief and it should be the model for Boston schools to avoid disruptions for students.
Now that Northeastern has led the way in Boston, more schools are undoubtedly considering privatizing student housing to reap its benefits. And by forgoing the expenses and resources that would have been allocated on new housing, schools can focus their time and money on reinforcing academic offerings and keeping education affordable.