On the House: Not your parents' choices for student housing

Posted: March 18, 2012

When I was in college, back in the 12th century, the phrase in loco parentis still meant exactly what English common law had intended: The institution was legally responsible for the student, as a parent would be.

For the first couple of years at my alma mater, that meant everyone lived on campus, in dormitories. As time passed, "everyone" meant just freshmen, sophomores and juniors, then just the first two classes, and finally the first years only.

Married students, veterans, and those who had come to college for whatever reason after age 21 could live off-campus, however.

It all sounded very exotic to those of us who preferred rolling out of bed 10 minutes before 8:30 a.m. class, grabbing a cup of student-union coffee, and sliding into our seats.

Off-campus living was seen as an act of rebellion against parents and college. The college did not bother to vet the landlords or their apartments, and woe to the parents who tried to influence their kids' choices.

Few of our parents interfered. Their generation had grown up in the Great Depression and World War II, and they demanded self-reliance of their children as soon as they crawled.

Once we went off to school, our parents rented out our rooms until the holidays.

Fast-forward 40 years to what Tom Brokaw should have called "The Coddled Generation."

To determine trends in the student rental-housing market, the National Apartment Association commissioned a survey of close to 100,000 students and parents at 159 colleges. About 12,000 students and 3,600 parents responded in the last week of January.

The objective of the survey was to determine which apartment features, amenities, and resident programs were most preferred by students living in these communities, as well as by parents whose students resided in campus housing.

When picking apartments, 47 percent of students cited rental rates and price as their top determinant, while parents pushed security to the top of their list.

At 20 percent, rental rates and pricing ranked only third among parents, who said security and proximity to campus were more important.

Considering room-and-board costs, an apartment shared among several students must look like a bargain to parents.

Security and proximity? They never call, don't respond to e-mail, and won't "friend" their parents on Facebook. Twitter? Yeah, sure.

Parents hold to in loco parentis more now than they did when I was in college. Probably they remember how they behaved and don't want to be at the receiving end.

Their children are too busy texting their friends - to the the tune of 100 texts a day. And who pays for that?

In my junior-year dorm, four guys and their guests shared a bathroom, about the same as a typical apartment in those days.

Today, private bedrooms and bathrooms remain the most important apartment amenity among students and parents, followed by in-unit laundry and large bedrooms.

In-unit laundry? Don't they still bring their wash home every semester, like we did?

The survey showed that the top cable channels for students included ESPN, the Food Network, MTV, and FX.

At my college, we had one TV for student use, in the lounge of the dorm that also housed the college newspaper, radio station, and ROTC. It brought New York City stations in by cable, which made the Mets fans really, really happy in fall 1969.

Students who could be found in front of that TV set at all hours tended to be on the fast track to flunking out.

One did graduate, though - and became president of NBCTelevision.

Oh, no, reality show!

On the House:

Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens' home improvement column appears Fridays in Home & Design. See instructional videos at Al's Place. Go to philly.com/yourplace

"On the House" appears Sundays. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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