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College dorms taking on a new (and better) look

  • Written by ARA

13837_B12_rgbThirty years ago, life in a college residence hall was appreciated by students for what it didn’t have: parents.

The rooms then were nothing to write home about: the size of a shoe box featuring hard mattresses beat-up desks and immovable dressers.

Showers took place in flip-flops in the communal lavatory down the hall; dining was military-style in the nondescript cafeteria downstairs.

But today’s college students expect and get much more.

They get dorm rooms double the size of the rooms of old.

Suites that feature 9-inch-thick pillow-top mattresses, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, custom study nooks, barbecue grills, in-room snack bars and card-swipe security.

One example is found on the campus of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. There, the five-story, 500-bed Prescott Hall is opening this fall with 736-square-foot suites that include two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a common area for the suite’s four residents.

It’s part of a trend sweeping across college campuses from coast to coast.

But that’s not all there is to Prescott Hall. Each floor contains two mid-corridor study rooms, two laundry rooms and two lobbies. These inviting spaces — some of them with spectacular views of campus and beyond — are some of the extras that are fast becoming the standard in campus living across the country.

Architects don’t even like to call these places "dormitories" anymore. The modern residence hall more closely resembles an upscale urban condo building or a well-appointed hotel. It’s what students of the 21st century — many of whom are not used to sharing a bathroom, let alone a bedroom — have come to expect.

"People are blown away," says James Rogers, one of Prescott Hall’s two resident directors. "For us, it’s more opportunity to create community. The new things are great visually, but they also facilitate community."

The current trend in residence halls is designed to blur the line between living and learning, intentionally replacing the old (which emphasized durability and efficiency) with the new (flexibility, technology and a balance of community and privacy).

The 21st Century Project, an initiative of the Association of College and University Housing Officers, champions this living-and-learning movement, even convening a summit conference, hosting design competitions and publishing books on the subject of cutting-edge campus housing.

"It is no longer enough to provide students with four walls and a bed," the ACUHO says on its website. "Current and future students demand more from their residential experience. And administrators have realized that (this) can attract and retain students."

Even the exteriors of today’s dorms are designed with both form and function in mind, incorporating space for offices, group gatherings and small concerts.

Residential facilities ranked second in importance during pre-enrollment visits, behind only facilities related to specific majors, in a recent survey of college students by the Center for Facilities Research of the APPA.

The many conveniences do make old-school dormies wonder: Is it possible for a residence hall to be too nice, inhibiting the social interaction that naturally comes from being out and about on campus? Will students just hole up?

"There is some tension between students’ desire for personal space and amenities and their desire and need to meet others and interact," says Emily Glenn of ACUHO.

However, as universities across the country continue to build bigger and better residence halls, it seems the new era of swank college living is here to stay.

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