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Demand rises to live on campus

Times Staff Writer

When Jason Robinson transferred to UCLA in the fall as a third-year student, he considered living in a Westwood-area apartment. But then he was offered a spot in a new campus residence hall and joined a trend in Southern California and around the nation.

More students want to live on campus these days, and more schools want them to. The result is a building boom.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Robinson, a communications major from Palm Desert, said in the on-campus room he shares with two others. “I wanted to get the experience of getting more involved on campus and meeting more new people.”

Various social and educational reasons are driving the movement, especially pricey real estate off campus. Some students want to avoid commutes. Administrators say that residential students tend to do better in school and that hovering parents think dorms provide more supervision. Newer residence halls -- some colleges avoid the word “dorms” -- also offer amenities many students are accustomed to at home.

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Robinson lives in Rieber Terrace, an L-shaped, nine-story structure with a glass, brick and metal exterior that looks more like a hotel than a dorm housing about 740 students. Some of the chicly designed lounges offer panoramic views, and the progress of your wash in the laundry facility can be tracked on the Internet.

The building’s opening in the fall and that of other projects that added 1,300 beds over the last two years pushed the percentage of UCLA students in university housing to 36% overall, significantly higher than in the recent past. The school recently began to guarantee freshmen three years of housing, instead of two.

UCLA’s goal is “to make it more of a residential campus. We are working toward that,” said Michael Foraker, UCLA’s assistant vice chancellor for housing and hospitality services.

UCLA is not alone. USC, UC Irvine, Loyola Marymount University and the Colburn School Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles are among the local schools that recently have opened residence halls, are building them or have them on the drawing boards. Even mainly commuter Cal State universities, such as those in Long Beach and Northridge, expect to join the boom.

The demand has always been there, leading some schools in the past to hold lotteries for scarce dorm space.

Growing enrollments partly fuel the on-campus housing trend at some schools. Demand also comes from the tighter off-campus market in Southern California and the reality that rents in some formerly student-oriented areas, particularly on Los Angeles’ Westside and in beach towns, are out of reach for many of today’s students.

Living on campus can be less expensive, but not always. For example, UCLA’s costs range from $8,899 an academic year to live in a triple room with a somewhat limited meal plan to $14,324 for a private room with more elaborate dining options.

Students say housing can be secured more cheaply off campus if you are willing to rough it, eat more tuna sandwiches and not have Internet connections included in dorm fees.

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But convenience can trump costs when traffic and parking problems interfere with campus social life and library hours.

USC, which says the vacancy rate in university-owned housing is near zero, expects to open a 440-bed residence hall in the fall. The new building will allow USC to stop housing freshmen at the nearby Radisson Hotel, where about 190 live now. Private construction of student housing near campus is rising too.

Loyola Marymount has added more than 500 beds, an 18% increase, over the last five years. About 58% of undergraduates now live at the Westchester campus.

“I think the demand has always been there. Most students want the residential experience for the time when they go to college,” said Michael J. LaConte, Loyola Marymount’s director of resident services.

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Genesee McCarthy, 21, an environmental science major who has spent four years in Loyola Marymount residence halls, shares a two-bedroom unit with three women.

“It’s nice for me to come back in between, do some homework, snack or nap,” said McCarthy, whose classes and activities can stretch from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. “If I lived off campus, it would be hard to drive home. It would be hard to be involved in events on campus and a hassle to come on and off campus.”

Family pressures are a factor, too. Campus housing officers around the country say that baby boomers, if rebellious in their own youth, often hover over their college-age children. These “helicopter parents” insist that collegians live in secure dormitories with regulations and educational programs.

Parents “see a good living environment as important, as a major component of that happiness or success factor,” said Connie Carson, president of the Assn. of College and University Housing Officers-International.

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And schools, she said, cater to that desire with upscale residence halls in which gang shower rooms are out and semi-private bathrooms with double sinks are in.

The nationwide building trend, particularly strong in the West, can help students and schools in the long run, advocates say. Studies show that compared with commuters, students who live on campus tend to do better academically, finish school sooner and express more satisfaction with their education.

Campus housing also creates bonds that are harder to achieve off campus, said Jeff Urdahl, USC’s housing director. “You go down the hall and find someone who has the same calculus class, and you walk to the dining hall and bump into someone from your marketing class. That’s not likely to happen outside the university environment,” he said.

On-campus residents tend also to keep stronger lifelong ties with alma maters and donate more financially, experts say.

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Construction funding varies among projects. For example, UCLA’s three newest residence halls, including Rieber Terrace, were financed by $200 million in tax-exempt bonds that rents will pay off. A private developer built and manages some of the new on-campus living quarters at UC Irvine.

Concerns about the expense of off-campus housing in nearby Orange County communities led to the addition of 4,000 beds at UC Irvine in the last three years, a 60% increase that is much larger than enrollment growth, officials said. A complex that opened in the fall added 1,500 beds.

William Zeller, UC Irvine’s assistant vice chancellor for student housing, said high real estate prices were not the sole factor.

“I do think there is more interest among undergraduates in staying on campus. Years ago, it was a mark of independence to move off campus,” he said.

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A sense of social and academic connection can also happen in privately owned apartments close to campus.

That is a drawing card for the Tuscany, a new high-end complex for 512 students built by a private developer just across from USC. It has workout rooms and a pool. Coffee, ice cream and sandwich shops are just downstairs.

USC sophomore Alex Pandel, an American studies major from New York, pays $801 a month for her share of a three- bedroom, three-bathroom unit split with five other women.

The cost is justified, she says, because an academic scholarship pays for much of her schooling and the building’s location makes it easy to walk to classes.

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Another private housing and retail project, named University Gateway, is proposed for a nearby site on Figueroa Street. Designed with room for 1,600 students, a bookstore and restaurants, it faces opposition from some area residents and the rival company that runs the Tuscany.

Schools with a mainly commuter identity, such as Cal States Northridge and Long Beach, also have new residential projects in planning stages.

larry.gordon@latimes.com


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