Students looking for more traditional college experiences of living on campus have more options thanks to a development company that focuses on building student housing next to commuter campuses.
When the Commons on University Drive opened in August next to Penn State Worthington Scranton’s campus, it gave dozens of students attending school there and at nearby colleges a student-centered place to stay. The residential community of three- and four-bedroom apartments leases only to students.
Having built a half-dozen or so similar projects, development company Higher Education Solutions has found a niche in creating housing opportunities near college campuses with limited or no student housing. Dennis G. Dunn, a retired banker and principal partner in the company that owns the rental properties, Apple Alley Associates-II, said the idea for the projects started when he and other retirees with experience in higher education or finance found the need for student housing at branch campuses, trade schools and other colleges but limited state resources.
“We saw an opportunity,” Mr. Dunn said. “We saw a need that we could fulfill.”
With no on-campus student housing at Penn State Worthington Scranton, students living at the Commons at University Drive can walk to class in just a few minutes. It also has students from Marywood University, the Commonwealth Medical College and Johnson College. With phase one of the development complete, which includes 12 apartments with a total of 82 beds, construction has already started to double the number of apartments and beds for the fall 2013 academic year. All together, the private company will have spent $8.5 million on the Dunmore project.
While common to have private student communities near four-year universities and colleges, the demand for more student housing at commuter campuses has increased as more students look to branch campuses as alternative college experiences. This trend appears throughout the country.
Freshmen and sophomores living at the Commons on University Drive gave different reasons for choosing the school, including smaller classes, closer distance to home and lower cost. However, they found the traditional roommate experience by living in the student community near the school.
“I think it’s nicer than dorms,” said Eric Mayer, a freshman health and human development major who shares a four-bedroom apartment with six other students. Mr. Dunn said his company has learned what students want and expect, including wireless Internet, a dishwasher, built-in desks and other amenities.
Similar to other companies, the Commons at University Drive charges each student for his or her share of expenses. That way it doesn’t have to worry about having enough money to pay expenses if a roommate doesn’t pay his share of the costs.
The student housing development group’s team includes an authority on working with students – Wayne Lammie, Ph.D., who retired as CEO of the PSU Schuylkill campus in 2000 and has 30 years of academic experience. Dr. Lammie created surveys for students to fill out to help the business match up students with overlapping routines, behaviors and interests, a common way to limit roommate conflict. He also works with college campuses whose students live in the student communities.
Mr. Dunn, Dr. Lammie and their partners have developed similar projects in La Plume Twp. near Keystone College, near PSU’s Hazleton campus, near PSU Wilkes-Barre, near Kutztown University and on Morrisville State University’s campus in New York. Usually after developing and managing the property for a few years, Mr. Dunn’s company sells it to a company associated with the university or college or to another private company.
Mr. Dunn said company also works to establish working relationships with universities and colleges near the properties. While it doesn’t have a formal affiliation with any academic institution, the company tries to set policies comparable to them.
In nearby Wilkes-Barre, Higher Education Solutions purchased and renovated property PSU’s branch campus. Charles Davis, Ph.D., chancellor of PSU Wilkes-Barre, said he sees value quality of private student housing at commuter campuses. During times of challenging financial situations, Dr. Davis said he understands state university systems don’t place student housing at branch campuses. He sees this as a good interaction between the private market fulfilling a need.
“Particularly as state budgets get tight, state universities might be ripe for welcoming more private options,” Dr. Davis said.
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