The University Rental Market: What to Expect This Fall Semester
June 17, 2020
As colleges and universities across Virginia make plans for reopening for the fall semester, landlords and property managers are anxious to see what the market for off-campus student housing will look like.
Earlier this month, Governor Northam issued guidance for Virginia public and private colleges and universities as they develop plans to reopen their campuses this fall. All colleges and universities in the state must submit “comprehensive reopening plans” and follow state-issued guidelines, including monitoring virus cases on campus, putting in place social distancing measures, restricting the use of shared spaces, and creating opportunities for more online learning.
There is concern that some students will not be returning to campus in the fall, either opting to take a semester or a year off, or taking advantage of distance learning options. And while colleges and universities have been announcing reopening plans (see below), there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the return to campus will unfold.
How colleges and universities reopen is important for Virginia’s landlords and property managers in college towns across the state who provide off-campus housing options to thousands of students. It is estimated that nationwide, about 60% of students at public college live off campus. In Virginia, the shares of students living off campus varies. For example:
- At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, around 13,000 of the university’s 23,000 students live off campus in privately-owned apartments and homes. Students occupy about one-quarter of rental units in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County combined.
- About two-thirds of Virginia Tech’s nearly 30,000 students live off campus, and a lack of student housing options has been a challenge for the Blacksburg community.
- By comparison, at the College of William & Mary, just 29% of students live in off-campus housing.
There are many reasons why college students live in off-campus housing, rather than in college dorms or on campus, university-owned housing. It can be cheaper to rent an apartment off campus than it is to pay room and board fees to live on campus. Living off campus provides students more independence and autonomy. An off-campus apartment typically provides more space, even when sharing with roommates, than students can get in a dorm. In some cases, students have been forced off campus because of a lack of on-campus housing.
Landlords and property managers that own rental housing in college and university towns are closely watching reopening plans to gauge how much demand they will expect this fall. Here is what we know so far about plans for the fall 2020 semester:
- Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech announced on June 8 that they will be reopening their campus for the fall semester on August 24. The semester will end on December 16 and there are plans to pivot to online instruction and exams after Thanksgiving. The university has announced that not all students who have contracted for the fall will be able to remain in on-campus housing. Virginia Tech will be offering beds on campus to about 9,100 students, 12 percent fewer than normal (the normal would be 10,400 students). Virginia Tech is collaborating with Town leaders to work to accommodate off-campus housing needs. (https://vt.edu/ready/for-students.html)
- University of Virginia: UVA plans to reopen their campus for the 2020 fall semester as planned on August 25. Some classes will be held online and UVA plans to end in-person instruction before Thanksgiving. No information has been released about reductions of on-campus housing options. (https://www.virginia.edu/coronavirus)
- George Mason University: Classes will resume on August 24 using a mix of teaching methods. George Mason plans to reduce the number of students in residence halls in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. At this point, the university has not issued specific updates about on-campus housing reductions. (https://www2.gmu.edu/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-faqs-for-students)
- James Madison University: JMU is planning to resume classes on August 26 under a modified fall schedule called “Fall Schedule 2.0.” The new fall schedule modifies class times to allow for additional cleaning times during the day. JMU is planning to resume its on-campus, residential operations in the fall of 2020 and will be releasing more details in the weeks to come. (https://www.jmu.edu/news/2020/06/08-smester-updae.shtml)
- William & Mary: The fall term will start for the law school on August 17 and for undergraduates and other students on August 19. There will be no fall break, and some classes will be held on Saturdays, in an effort to squeeze as much in-person instruction as possible into the semester by the time it ends before Thanksgiving. Some classes will be taught online, some in person and some in a hybrid fashion. At this time, William & Mary has said the college will be able to house all students who have completed a housing contract for 2020-2021. (https://www.wm.edu/news/announcements/2020/the-path-forward,-fall-2020.php)
- Virginia Commonwealth University: The fall semester at VCU will begin August 17 and the last day of classes will be November 24. Final exams will take place after the Thanksgiving holiday from November 30 to December 4 (MCV Campus) and November 30 to December 7 (Monroe Park Campus). VCU will be closing some common areas in residence halls and have implemented a “no guest” policy, but have not announced plans to reduce the number of students living on-campus. (https://together.vcu.edu/)
- University of Richmond: Fall classes will begin August 24 and the semester will end December 18. Fall Break will be eliminated and in-person courses and student residency will end prior to Thanksgiving. The final week of classes and the study and exam period will occur remotely thereafter. (https://www.richmond.edu/coronavirus/messages/index.html)
Information on reopening plans at other Virginia college and universities is available at the institutions’ individual websites. Landlords and property managers should be prepared to receive requests for modified lease agreements from students and might have an opportunity to work with colleges and universities to connect students with off-campus housing options.
As we have more information about colleges and universities reopening in the fall, we will update information here.
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