Odds are slim that the cast of "Jersey Shore" will ever enroll at USC. But if they could, TV's legendary sybarites would find that gym-tan-laundry is just the beginning at a new luxury apartment complex near campus.
Nearly every detail at West 27th Place is upmarket, from the fountains, landscaping and custom outdoor light fixtures to the granite countertops and big-screen HD television sets in every unit. There are also televisions in the well-appointed gym, along with a professional-grade Sundazzler -- a walk-in tanning booth that resembles a science-fiction movie prop.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the East Coast's answer to In-N-Out, is building an outlet on the ground floor. Other restaurants are set to follow.
Making margaritas? The kitchens include ice makers. Revelry can spill over to the billiard room, swimming pool and a hot tub that is supposed to hold five people.
"It's usually either two or 10" in the tub at a time, quipped David Hilliard of Symphony Development, the owner of the complex.
Those who remember college housing as spartan dormitories or crowded cracker-box apartments may be seized with envy -- or the urge to give denizens of West 27th Place a sermon on how spoiled they are. Get over it. Students today expect more from their college experience, including all the comforts of Mom and Dad's sumptuous home, according to developers who are rushing to fill the growing demand for deluxe digs.
At UC Riverside, the year-old Camino del Sol complex on campus boasts a 24-hour fitness center, billiards, a hot tub, barbecues and a resort-style pool with a sun deck and cabanas. University Gateway, which opened last year just outside USC, is "almost like a youth-oriented luxury hotel," developer Dan Rosenfeld said.
"It's a national trend," he said. "There is competition among schools, and USC has to provide a competitively attractive student environment."
The $55-million West 27th Place complex is a model for campus housing, said Henry Cisneros, the former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary who is now executive chairman of CityView, the Los Angeles investment firm that helped fund the project.
USC and UCLA have made strides in recent years to outgrow their former images as commuter campuses where most students left at the end of the day. Both now draw more students from around the world, some of whom pay tuition of more than $40,000 a year and want housing that meets their refined tastes. Old dormitories are being refurbished and new units that house fewer students are being built to the latest environmental standards.
"Students come on campus tours and want to know where they are going to live all four years; where they will work out, where they will sit with their friends," said Kristina Raspe, who is in charge of real estate development at USC.
"The cinder block dorms I lived in do not meet current demands," she adds.
USC students who could afford it have always tended to live in style -- away from campus. Lodging within walking distance has traditionally been cramped, well-worn and pricey. Figueroa Street, the campus' eastern boundary, has for decades been populated by automotive repair shops and fast-food joints.
West 27th Place is a sharp upgrade. The seven-story, 161-unit complex on Figueroa , with its lush sidewalk landscaping, tiled roofs and Spanish Colonial architecture, is evocative of the nearby landmark Automobile Club of Southern California headquarters.
Sound-deadening doors and windows seal tightly to keep out traffic noise. That's not to say the place is always quiet -- it is student housing, after all.
"It gets a little loud, but it's much quieter than the dorms could ever be," said Jaques Dubois, a graduate student from Connecticut. He likes the building's proximity to campus and amenities such as the full kitchen.
"The washer and dryer," he added, eyes widening with enthusiasm, "is huge."
There are also study rooms on each floor, a room to park 350 bicycles, hard-wiring for the Internet and satellite TV, plus in-room and communal Wi-Fi, said Hilliard, president of Symphony. Recreation areas include a club room with a pool table and a big-screen television where management will host game-day parties. If a resident gets sick, management will deliver a get-well package with chicken soup and ginger ale.
It doesn't come cheaply, of course. A one-bedroom unit at West 27th Place, which can house two students, may cost more than $2,500 a month, more than twice the county's median price. A four-bedroom, two-bath unit shared by eight students starts at $680 apiece, or more than $5,400. Parking is extra at $150 a month, but judging by the garage many can afford it. Among the student vehicles there on the first day of school were late model Mercedes-Benz, BMWs and sport utility vehicles.
Still, other students are hard-pressed to pay for school and books, let alone a lavish apartment. Over in Westwood, UCLA is racing to add more affordable housing on campus, where demand has always been high and dormitories operate on a nonprofit basis.
Residence halls for about 1,500 undergrads are under construction. Compared with the hotel-like digs of some colleges, these units are modest. Students will live as many as three to a room, share bathrooms and eat in dining halls. But the rooms will be wired for the latest electronics and built to strict environmental standards that include separate trash chutes for recycling and outdoor sun shades on the windows.
UCLA is also building 500 units of graduate student housing. These studios will have kitchenettes, contemporary furnishings and more privacy. Rent will probably be between $1,000 and $1,200 a month.
"With all the pressure coming on the tuition side, we need to be sure students have an affordable housing option to attend UCLA," said Peter Angelis, who is in charge of housing at the university. "A student's academic experience is greatly enhanced when living on campus. We are focusing our resources on building beds."
The projects will cost $347 million, which will be paid for from student housing and dining fees, Angelis said.
With a large share of the nation's student residences dating to the baby boom era, housing for their children will grow in importance as expectations and tuition fees rise, said University Gateway developer Rosenfeld.
"Given what college costs today," he said, "a lot of kids and parents are expecting more than a camp-out."