Designing for the Next Generation of Student Life

By Mike Porritt, Vice President, International Advisory Services at Scion Group; Doug Campbell, Ghafari Education Director; and Mike Durand, Ghafari Vice President, Healthcare

Welcome to the Student Life Series where we discuss strategies for student housing in the COVID-19 era. COVID-19 has already had a dramatic impact on higher education, and only time will tell the continued impacts as colleges and universities prepare for the next school year. What we do know is that student housing will be one of the greatest areas of concern, since this is naturally the area where students have significant, personal contact with one another. At the same time, student housing remains a vital part of the student and campus experience. So we need strategies that protect students, preserve the role of the residence hall, and make sense for the university over the short and long terms.

Recent data about the spread of COVID-19 identifies face-to-face interactions (and respiratory droplet transfer) as the primary means of transmission. This same research shows that the virus does not live long on common surfaces. This leaves student housing professionals and designers to focus on reducing face-to-face interactions and droplet transfer while preserving the residence hall’s vital role in recruitment, social engagement, campus community, and ultimately, student success.

Let’s start with some context. While some institutions may focus on turning double occupancy residential units into single occupancy (creating an optimum social distance), we have to consider the implications of this strategy. Will it increase rental rates while decreasing the university’s available housing capacity (and revenue)? Will it negatively impact first and second year experiences, in which double occupancy rooms are a prime component of the housing experience that is proven to aid in student success? With the growing concerns around higher education’s cost of attendance, student housing and food insecurity, and student debt, we need to be careful about preserving affordability. Alongside these considerations, we have to acknowledge the possibility that many residence halls may be partially or completely empty as some institutions choose to only offer classes online and students opt to stay home. Might this be an opportunity for selective or tactical renovations to address COVID-19 type measures as well as needed facility upgrades? And finally, whatever student housing adaptations we make today, can they also serve as resiliency measures for unforeseen viruses and circumstances of the future?

The Family Unit

There is a fairly immediate and inherent challenge with student housing in the COVID-19 era: students living in very close proximity to one another. Short of converting double occupancy to single occupancy units (which some institutions are pursuing), many colleges and universities are suggesting that roommates in shared residential units treat each other like immediate family members, a.k.a. The Family Unit. Outside the unit, they wear a mask and take all necessary precautions. Inside the unit, they can be mask-free and limit their direct exposure to only those peers.

As personal protective equipment (PPE) becomes commonplace, we are hearing interest in “PPE stations”, areas where masks, sanitizer, gloves, and wipes are consolidated for disposal, cleaning, and resupply. These installations may soon be accompanied by “testing stations”, areas where a clean mouth swab can be retrieved and a test sample deposited as institutions attempt to monitor on-campus infection both proactively and discreetly. We have even heard of some businesses incorporating infrared temperature readings at turnstiles or touchless thermometers. While this may seem extreme, it could be the next step in virus detection and prevention at the scale of a residence hall.


Next week we will continue with Part II of this three part series on our blog. To read the full article visit our partners’ website at Ghafari.com.

If you’d like to speak with our student housing experts, please contact advisory@thesciongroup.com or click below to Ask Scion.

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