Comfort factor wins students

September 15, 1995

A survey at Indiana's Purdue University says it all about the needs of the modern American student. A sample of 6,000 college rooms found 3,000 answering machines, more than 5,000 televisions, close to 4,200 compact refrigerators, about 2,000 microwaves, and just short of 3,000 video recorders.

A growing number of United States students will be greeted this autumn with the kind of creature comforts usually aimed at business travellers: cable television, fitness centres, and semi-private bathrooms. In a competitive market colleges are striving to put the "consumers" at their ease.

"Our students are consumers and they have been raised on fast food and microwave ovens and drive through lines, they are sophisticated consumers," says John Sautter, Purdue's residence halls director. In the heart of the Mid-West, Purdue must provide campus amenities to compete with nearby Michigan or Penn State.

"It's sea food, it's Mexican food, they just know what they like and they are used to getting it quickly," he said. "We can't sit back and say you are at college now. The decision as to where to go to school has a lot to do with the comfort factor." Among the offerings: with a phone call, students can access the coming week's menus.

Purdue, a state university, houses about 11,000 of its 35,000 students, all on a voluntary basis. But the story is the same at Lehigh University, a private institution in eastern Pennsylvania with just 4,500 students. Staff say students in the area probably examine five or more local colleges before settling on one.

"We realised a long time ago that its a necessity to keep your accommodations to a high level to help in recruitment and retention of students," said Ozzie Breiner, associate director of residential services.

As of this summer Lehigh provided every student with cable TV and computer lines. It is working to provide more apartments and single, rather than shared, rooms. High-school teenagers, said Breiner, are simply not used to sharing rooms any more.

In new construction colleges are turning from dormitory concepts to townhouse living. Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, recently installed air conditioning, elevators, and large-screen televisions in the dormitories themselves.

Across the US, new arrivals no longer want to telephone their friends; they expect to chat with them on-line, and as many as 50 per cent bring their own computers. Fiber-optic hook-ups in residence halls are rapidly becoming fashionable.

Purdue, where rooms cost on average slightly more than $4,000 a year, carries in its newest hall for example a cable TV, a data line, and a telephone line for each student. By the year 2,000 it wants every student on campus to have the same access. This autumn it will offer voice-mail services.

The university already has its own cable TV channel broadcasting about four feature films a day, along with education programmes. Meanwhile the halls of residence marketing team, preparing a new video to go out to high schools, has adopted the theme: "Experience the Ease".

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