So much for the indignities of dorm life. While alums remember how they had to scramble for showers in the hall bathroom, fight for possession of their floor's two public telephones, and struggle to stay cool in 90-degree heat with no air conditioning, today's students enjoy privacy and perks. "We have computer labs, nice clubhouses, state-of-the-art fitness centers, basketball courts, tanning beds, and extremely nice pools that are every bit as nice as our luxury multifamily pools," says Greg Bates, managing director at Stamford, Conn.-based GE Commercial Finance's real estate division, which works with JPI Cos. on their student projects. That's become the standard, as both multifamily firms and universities compete for the country's 16 million students and their college dollars. In this edition of Conference Call, you'll hear how apartment firms are doing just that from three executives: David Adelman, president and CEO of Campus Apartments in Philadelphia; Miles Orth, vice president of operations and business development for College Park Communities in Newtown, Pa., and GE's Greg Bates.
What is the most critical issue in student housing right now?
GREG BATES, GE Commercial Finance: One of the most important things we're facing is the increase in institutional acceptance of [student housing] and the increased competition that brings to what was once a niche market. The next thing is changing demographics. With 75 million echo boomers, you certainly need to adapt your products. You need the right amenities, the right product, and the right management.
What used to be the expectation for student housing in terms of product or management versus today?
BATES: One of the biggest things for us is the actual box. ... Students both have the financial wherewithal and the expectation that they're going to live in a higher-end product. ... The other thing is, instead of the mom-and-pop ownership that some of us might [remember from college], ... the REITs and the JPIs of the world have brought some high-end products and sophisticated marketing, leasing, and pricing mechanisms to [the student] market.
DAVID ADELMAN, Campus Apartments: We started in 1958, so we've seen the industry evolve from students sharing rooms to single bedrooms to single bathrooms to everything else that is now commonplace. ... The professionalism of the business has really stepped up. It's much different than it was during the mom-and-pop days.
MILES ORTH, College Park Communities: [Students today] have Palm Pilots, iPods. Their expectations of what they consider a fully amenitized property versus the students of even 10 years ago is radically different, and you have to build or renovate to that expectation.