More College Students Are Living on Campus

Is the shift back to on-campus housing about sociability or irresponsibility?

There was a fascinating little statistic tucked into this story in the Sunday Inquirer about residence-hall construction on local colleges. According to Robert Morro, vice president of facilities at Villanova University, “In the ’70s, a quarter of students wanted to live on campus. Now it’s three-quarters of students wanting to live in dorms.”

That’s a massive shift in the course of 40 years.

Granted, college dormitories today are hardly the cramped cinder-block boxes that greeted arriving freshmen four decades ago. Bryn Mawr College is a perennial winner of the Princeton Review’s “Dorms Like Palaces” category. Residence halls now are likely to include such amenities as climbing walls, pottery studios, fitness centers and cafes. And even the tiniest triple has high-speed Internet and cable. Who would want to live anywhere else?

Still, it’s interesting that even in tough economic times, schools are anxious to keep moving on residence-hall projects intended to house more students on campus. Moving to off-campus housing used to be a rite of passage for upperclassmen—a chance to break free of the oppressive thumb of R.A. oversight and lousy cafeteria food, to have a little place of one’s own, to get an education in how to be responsible for stuff like paying rent and utilities, dealing with deadbeat roomies, grocery shopping and meal planning, even buying one’s first toilet brush—and learning to wield the thing.

“This generation of students is different,” Loren Rullman, of the Society for College and University Planning, told the Inquirer. “Safety is important to parents, and the ‘millennials’ are more social and group-oriented.” Or else they’ve just watched a lot more shows like The Real World and Jersey Shore, that make group living out to be a 24/7 orgy of liquor, sex and drama. DTF!

It’s nice to think that sociability is what’s behind the shift, and not just a general reluctance on the part of today’s young people to grow up and take responsibility for living on their own. But given the growing trend of kids “boomeranging” back home after college, parents might want to rethink that “safety” concern and push their kids in the direction of independence. Unless, of course, they really want to be their kids’ roommates for a decade or so after they graduate.