Student housing – whether you're talking on- or off-campus – has changed from the days of the double loaded corridor with two students per room and a community bathroom. The traditional dorms that were built in the '50s and '60s are outdated, and universities and students are looking for alternative housing solutions.

That's where American Campus Communities comes in. The Austin, Texas-based company specializes in developing and managing both on- and off-campus student housing facilities. With a management and development portfolio that includes 39 communities, 11 of which are currently in development, American Campus has become a leader in this niche market.

The company is successful because student housing is its sole focus, explains William Bayless, co-founder and COO of the company. "Unlike other providers, we are not trying to make something else fit into student housing," he says.

William Bayless, Co-Founder and COO American Campus Communities
William Bayless, Co-Founder and COO American Campus Communities

Another thing that has helped American Campus succeed is its true understanding of the student housing market. Many of the company's employees come from a student housing background, 10 of its corporate staff got a start in the industry as resident assistants (RA) when they attended college, explains Thomas Trubiana, president and CEO of American Campus.

"Those who understand the dynamic differences of student housing vs. multifamily housing focus more on creating a sense of community," says Trubiana. "For instance, in multifamily there's a desire for residents to be able to park at their door and to create a sense of privacy – almost like homeownership. However, we work very hard to create avenues for social interaction because we think that's a very important part of student housing."

American Campus emphasizes creating areas for social interaction such as courtyards, study lounges and recreational facilities, because most people's fondest memories of their college days are not about a building they lived in, but rather about the relationships they formed, he says.

While some companies think of student housing as a form of shelter, American Campus recognizes that student housing also is part of the academic mission, says Bayless. It is this thought process that convinced the University of Houston to select American Campus to develop two of its on-campus facilities.

"American Campus understands what our goal is," says Diane Murphy, executive director of student affairs administration for the University of Houston. Part of that goal is to create great alumni, and you do so by ensuring that while they are students they have a great experience, and housing plays a large part in that, she adds. American Campus financed, developed and is managing Cullen Oaks for the university. The project opened in August 2001 and has nine wings for students with a selection of four apartment-style floor plans.

In addition, American Campus is in the process of developing Greek Park Housing, which will open in the summer of 2003. This 474-bed community will offer townhouse-style accommodations with ground floor meeting space for fraternity and sorority organizations, as well as private bedroom housing for non-Greek students.