A whopping 64 percent of students at U.S. colleges and universities say they would consider relocating to new housing if their apartment’s Internet speeds were slower than expected, according to a survey of more than 10,000 students across 130 campuses conducted by Houston-based J Turner Research in partnership with Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments and Memphis, Tenn.-based Education Realty Trust (ERT).

Intended to determine how technology and bandwidth expectations affect student housing rental decisions, the survey—full results of which will be presented at the National Apartment Association’s Student Housing Conference & Exposition next week in Las Vegas—also demonstrates an increasing appetite for WiFi connectivity and a willingness to pay rent premiums for higher bandwidth speeds.

“The use of technology in student housing continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and we’ve been extremely interested in whether lack of technology is a deal killer for student housing providers,” says J Turner Research president Joseph Batdorf. “Unlike conventional rental housing, every year, these communities empty out, and the residents decide if they are going to come back next year or not, and if you don’t have an amenity that the students are interested in having, it will absolutely murder you, particularly when it comes to technology.”

Although the need to provide deep technology amenities in student housing has been known for some time, the survey reveals how critical bandwidth is becoming to residents who are connecting to the Internet with, at times, more than three devices simultaneously. “We have the most powerful Internet users in the world. They challenge and stress our technology to the limits,” says ERT vice president of information technology Scott Casey. “They are leaving home with a laptop; a 60-inch flat panel TV; an iPad; an iPhone; an Xbox; and a PlayStation 3. They want to plug all of that in and be on the Internet blogging and Facebooking, and they expect the same bandwidth experience they have at home.”

According to the survey, 41 percent of students typically have three or more devices simultaneously connected to the Internet in their apartment, and an additional 31 percent say they have at least two devices connected at once. “Everything is on the Internet,” Casey says. “And most importantly, they are communicating about their bandwidth experience at the same time via Facebook: 'Come live here because the Internet is great.' Or, 'Don’t live here because the Internet is awful.'”

Casey says a couple of ERT properties that had been slow to answer the call for higher bandwidth speeds consequently saw slower lease-ups as well. The company has since moved to deliver 100 MB per second bandwidth on average to its properties and has launched an initiative to provide a WiFi network overlay to all ERT-owned communities by August 1. “It is obviously important for them to still have the ability to plug into the wall for speed, but when you ask them what is most important, their knee-jerk reaction is to ask for more wireless,” Casey addds. “That way, they can connect in their bedroom, in the hallway, in the common area, by the pool, or even in the closet, if they want to.”

Market-rate apartment operators looking to court the current student demographic as it matriculates and enters the job market would do well to get their properties similarly wired. According to the survey, only 3 percent of students expect that their housing choices after graduation will not offer comparable technology, and almost half (49 percent) believe that market-rate apartment owners will somewhat or greatly exceed their current tech services and amenities. 
Editor's Note: J Turner Research will present the findings of its technology survey on Tuesday, Feb. 22, at the National Apartment Association’s Student Housing Conference & Exposition at the Wynn Las Vegas. For more information about the event, please visit http://www.naahq.org/shc/Pages/default.aspx.