Colleges and universities face growing pressure to offer students single rooms.
More first-year students, having never shared a room at home, expect a greater degree of privacy—for academic and emotional reasons—than did freshmen of even the recent past. Also, upperclass students, when encouraged or required to live on campus, really want their own bedrooms, and even bathrooms.
And as more students with physical and emotional disabilities attend college, administrators find that providing a single room can become a medical accommodation.
Still, many campus housing officials continue to see value in living with a roommate.
“We prefer that first-year students do not live in singles because we want them to get connected to the community,” says Mari Strombom, interim executive director of Housing and Dining Services at Colorado State University. “If they’re in a single room, it’s much easier for them to isolate themselves.”
This widely held sentiment makes a single-room building boom for first-year students unlikely—at least in the near future. But housing for upperclass students may be a different matter.
“What I hear every year from students is, ‘I really loved my first-year experience living in a double room in a traditional residence hall, but I don’t ever want to do it again,’” says Michael Speros, the executive director of housing and residential life at Sacramento State University.
Sidebar: Case study: Beacon College (Florida)
Focus on making friends
A disconnect often exists between what kind of housing a first-year student wants and what administrators consider to be best for their success, says Elizabeth Harrison, director of the Office of Learning Resources at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
Some parents, considering their substantial financial investment, want their children to live in singles so they will be more focused on coursework.
“Our response is that campus housing is not designed to be study space—it’s living space,” Harrison says. “If all of our housing were singles we’d fill it, but I know it wouldn’t be a good thing for students.”
Administrators may also push back when parents request singles for students who suffer from anxiety, depression and similar mental health conditions. In some of these cases, students’ doctors have agreed with campus administrators that living in a single could even be dangerous, Harrison adds.
“That student may be better off knowing someone else is around instead of being able to go and close themselves off in a room without any contact with anyone on a regular basis,” she says.
At Barry University in Miami—which hasn’t added any more single rooms since 2012—first-year students don’t expect to be offered a private room, says Matthew R. Cameron, the director of residence life and student conduct. Financial concerns may also outweigh the desire for privacy.
“Students may want a single space but they often don’t realize what it costs,” Cameron says.
First-year students at Stockton University, a public institution in New Jersey, still gravitate toward double rooms in part because of cost. A single runs $4,743 per semester compared to $4,035 for a double, says Steven E. Radwanski, the director of residential life, adding that singles are most desirable to non-freshmen there.
“Initially, they see living in a single as a disadvantage to meeting people and becoming part of the community,” Radwanski says. “Once they meet people and figure out who their network of friends is going to be, then they want to live with friends in an apartment and have that single experience.”
University of Central Florida, one of the nation’s largest schools, offers a substantial number of singles to first-year students within its nine residential communities—and they fill up fast, says Sandra Brasch, an assistant marketing director for housing and residence life.
The university doesn’t have an on-campus housing requirement, and providing singles pays dividends in the classroom.
“We see students doing better academically when they live on campus,” she says. “If providing them a room that makes them more comfortable helps, we’re all for it.”
While the university will continue to build double rooms, singles will take up greater portions of future housing construction.
Another piece of the puzzle is the coveted private bathroom, she adds. At the recently completed Neptune Housing Community, some of the 669 beds are in units containing four single bedrooms with two bathrooms, and no living room or kitchen. It has become the most popular residential area on campus.
RAs are required to reach out to every student for one-on-one conversations and to organize group activities, such as attending a football game.
“We’ve been pretty proactive to make sure students stay involved,” Brasch says.
The University of Cincinnati has also increased its stock of single rooms for first-year students, who account for about 80 percent of campus housing residents. But the institution is hardly abandoning the idea of roommates.
“When renovating, we would not intend to fill up a building with all singles, but when we have the opportunity to create a few more, we do that,” says Carl Dieso, the housing director.
Community and competition
Some colleges that offer singles to upperclass students still attempt to preserve the community atmosphere. Students at Colorado College, which has a three-year residency requirement, can choose single rooms in eight-bedroom apartments.
This arrangement requires them to continue to cooperate with others in making decisions that impact everyone in the apartment, says John Lauer, the associate vice president for student life.
Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas—which also has a three-year residency requirement—did not offer single rooms for many years. But not providing them to upperclass students put the university at a competitive disadvantage, says David Tuttle, associate vice president and dean of students.
“No matter what you could charge for a single, some students will pay. That’s how high the demand is.”
Now Trinity now has about 200 students living in singles, including some who are paying extra to live alone in a double room.
Housing administrators have spotted another trend that puts pressure on residence halls: Roommate conflicts have also increased in recent years, says Cameron at Barry University. Today’s students may have grown up spending more time alone in their rooms, communicating primarily with others online.
“That impacts young adults’ conflict resolution and interpersonal skills,” Cameron adds.
This year—after just a few days of school—he faced nearly a dozen housing conflicts and had to move some students into different rooms.
Yet, a shift in mindsets is occurring, and it has ramifications for campus life in the post-millennial era, says Beth McCluskey, president of ACUHO-i, the professional organization for higher ed housing directors.
“The Generation Z students coming onto campus are far less enamored with amenities and lots of space,” McCluskey says. “They’re focused on getting a good education and getting done—they’re more focused on academics and affordability.”
Matt Zalaznick is senior associate editor.