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November 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Blame it on changing parental ideals about how their children should live. Blame it on the more-is-better mentality proposed by popular society. Heck, even blame it on Robin Leach. Whatever the reason, college living is no longer just lifestyles of the poor and studious. Shared bedrooms are a thing of the past, and to speak of communal bathrooms would be like suggesting man hasn’t walked on the moon.
Today’s students, well-versed in the MTV Cribs movement, demand only the best services, spanning the practical (computer labs and swimming pools) to the unusual (tanning beds and movie theaters) to the extravagant (valet dry cleaning service and an on-call masseuse). No longer are a single bed, wooden desk and chair enough to furnish a student’s pad. Nowadays, residences are slums if they don’t have high-speed Internet access and fitness centers. Luxury apartments are competing to one-up one another in amenities offered and are starting to corner the student market; there’s definitely no shortage of them in Columbia.
These luxury student residences are prevalent just southeast of the MU campus. Old Highway 63 South is home to Campus Lodge, The Reserve, Grindstone Canyon and Copper Beech. The Cottages of Columbia are located off of Nifong Boulevard, and The Hill, part of Gary Lewis Properties, is located near Southampton Drive and Providence Road. These locations are a quick drive to downtown Columbia when students have to attend classes and extracurricular activities.
With the multitude of luxury apartment complexes around the city, it’s not surprising that many students are looking for more than what dorms offer.
“Living in a five-by-five space with another human being isn’t fun,” says Vince Fels, an MU senior who moved out of the residence halls after his freshman year and now lives at Copper Beech Townhomes. Together with his housemates, they own luxuries like big-screen TVs, a wall-sized stack of DVDs and a pool table.
Last year, Fels and his housemate Brian Battles lived in an off-campus house but moved to Copper Beech for this school year with Greg Carlson. “We liked being around the college atmosphere, so we moved back in over here,” Battles says.
So why do some students jump ship after completing the MU-required freshman year in residence halls?
Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life at MU, thinks moving out of the residence halls is part of the normal maturation process for students.
“Most students are going to want to move off-campus to something that requires more independent living,” Minor says. “We did some surveying as to why they move off campus, and the three major reasons were: They want more space, more privacy and ‘It’s just what you do as you get older.’”
Copper Beech leasing agent Drew Minert says the increase in luxury student residences is due to so many students living in Columbia, and these students in turn control the market.
“Columbia thrives on the university,” he says. “The majority of places that are going up are student living because the university grows the town.”
MU enrolled more than 5,000 freshmen for the 2007-2008 academic year and had nearly 22,000 undergraduates enrolled as of fall 2006. These numbers require large amounts of student housing, both on and off campus.
Minor is aware of developers’ interests in the college market and points out the increase of luxury student apartments across the U.S. “The phenomenon that’s occurring here in Columbia is not unique,” he says. “If you talk to any other major campus town, they’re seeing similar phenomena because (real estate developers) realize that students or their families are willing to pay for a little bit more.”
Saku Aura, an assistant professor in MU’s economics department, attributes this rise in luxury student living to changing sociological trends.
“The parents of this generation seem to be different than the parents of previous generations,” Aura says. “It’s a lot of kids coming from upper middle-class families who suddenly need these luxury items. Suddenly the parents are expected to provide a lot more than what they used to provide.”
MU sophomore Matt Rutledge chose to stay in the residence halls. He lives in South Hall, part of the Southwest Housing Complex that opened in fall 2006 across from Memorial Stadium and one of the plushest campus residences. The hall has suite-style rooms with ID-card locks. Rutledge says he enjoys the convenience the hall provides. “You don’t have to go shopping for food,” he says. “You can go to the dining halls.”
Many students enjoy dorm life because of its proximity to classes. For Rutledge, it’s especially important because he doesn’t have a car. “I didn’t want to take the bus (to campus),” he says. “I think everything I need is here.”
Of all the luxury student living residences in Columbia, The Cottages of Columbia is upping the standards for lavishness. The housing subdivision, which is scheduled to open just before the 2008-2009 school year, features units modeled after actual cottages. They are available in
two-, three- and four-bedroom units, duplexes and multi-unit lodges.
The Cottages feature full-size porches, a community bocce ball court and units pre-wired for surround sound. Average rent at The Cottages ranges from $490 to $620 per bedroom.
Although such plush conditions might seem like overkill for college students, John Vawter, executive vice president of Capstone Development Corp., thinks students enjoy the combination of privacy and community.
“The trend is being set by the students,” Vawter says. “The students are demanding, at least through their willingness to pay the higher rent, for higher quality products.”
The increase in luxury student residences looks likely to continue. According to a Forbes.com article, in 2006 the U.S. college-age population numbered 9.5 million, up 20 percent from a decade ago, and will peak in 2010. That means a larger market of students, some of whom could plop down big bucks on nice places to stay.
Although the economist in Aura recommends saving some money, he says it’s inevitable that some students spend recklessly. “I think part of the college experience is you’re supposed to be a little bit broke.”