Brian Kraft talks growing trends with Student Housing Business Magazine


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Operating On-Campus

A look at some of the growing trends and best practices for third-party management on-campus.

By Katie Sloan

Enrollment is continuing to rise at many universities across the country — a fact which, alone, would be likely to substantiate a rise in public-private partnership (P3) development starts. This anticipated increase in P3 activity is even more likely to occur when viewed through the lens of the current economic environment, which is making financing of any sort tricky, but particularly for new development.

With more P3 projects expected, we’re also likely to see a growing number of on-cam- pus third-party management assignments. So what are the issues and trends today in on- campus management? And how does an on- campus assignment differ from off-campus? SHB had a number of experts weigh in.

Trends On-Campus

The number one priority for today’s students living on-campus is affordability, ac- cording to Bradley Shaw, senior director with Greystar. “Most students seeking on-campus housing — and their families — are interested in an affordable housing option that is close to classrooms and student support services, with easy access to campus life activities and an abundance of community development opportunities,” he says.

Second to affordability is privacy and flexible contract terms, Shaw continues. “Most newly developed on-campus projects provide more opportunities for privacy,” he says. “These communities include en-suite bath- rooms and single occupancy in-suite bedrooms. Students also want the flexibility to stay on-campus over break periods and the availability of summer housing

Felicia Chachere, regional senior vice president of American Campus Communities, which provides third-party management services for a portfolio of over 32,000 on-campus beds in 21 markets across the U.S., echoes the desire for privacy among today’s students.

“Today’s students and their needs are evolving and to be successful, you must spend time to understand their needs and provide services that align with and support them,” says Chachere. “Over the next few years, I believe we will see a growing emphasis on-campus on providing spaces that are inclusive, accessible and sustainably developed; focused on student wellness; and with increased privacy and affordability.”

Having space that encourages interaction and robust Wi-Fi connectivity is also important on-campus according to Brian Kraft, se- nior vice president of operations for Capstone

On-Campus Management (COCM), an Alabama-based firm that focuses exclusively on on-campus properties.

“I think one of the must-haves for students living on campus today is having areas that encourage interaction,” he says. “There should be a blend of both passive and active program- ming that hit a variety of interests. Also, properties must have strong Wi-Fi and technological solutions. Students today depend on it and when it’s not there, it creates a negative impact on the students — especially now that more classes are online/hybrid.”

Having space and programming that en- courages student connection can also help with another growing trend on campuses: mental health issues. “It is imperative that managers are tied into mental health resources available to students — whether their property is on- or off-campus,” says Kraft. “Operators should also be developing partnerships with mental health departments on-campus.

With an increased desire for individual units in housing, students need that space for connectivity.”

From the operational side, one of the trends being seen is facilities-only management con- tracts, according to Shaw. “More institutions are looking to retain services critical to the student experience,” he says. “The interest in retaining leasing and marketing, rent collection and residential education is due to institutions wanting to create a seamless experience for students across all on-campus housing options.”

Building Relationships

Largely, the relationship between a univer- sity and third-party manager is just the same as any other partnership, according to Michael Reighter, regional vice president of manage- ment for The Michaels Organization. “An on- campus community where we work directly with a university simply adds another partner to the relationship,” he says. “This can require additional calls and layers of communication that we may not see at a typical off-campus community to make sure everyone is aligned with the decisions being made.”

One of the most common requests on-campus is for a limit on rental rate increases. “The biggest request or obligation we see at our on- campus communities that we don’t usually see off-campus is the capping of rental rate growth to keep rents from growing outside of a pre- agreed upon threshold,” continues Reighter.

“We may see a market where rental rates at the off-campus communities are increasing 5 percent to 9 percent or more in a given year, but our on-campus communities in that same market are capping rental increases at 3 percent to keep the communities as affordable as possible for students,” he says.

As with any relationship, communication is key to a successful dynamic between universities and third-party operators. “We understand the importance of communication as we enter P3 relationships,” says Chachere. “To ensure a seamless experience for our campus partners and their communities, we strive to create an environment where we are seen as an extension of the campus. While working with university partners, our main focus is to provide academically focused communities and establish a code of conduct with an emphasis on respect for others and the overall community.”

Reighter agrees, noting that institutional partners need constant communication — and that includes sharing the good, the bad and the ugly. “The university will hear from parents, students, friends and local community members about everything and anything that happens whether it is true or not,” he says. “Making sure we are constantly communicating with each other is crucial to maintaining a great relationship with all parties.”

This can make third-party management on- campus more of a challenge, but the rewards are worth the extra effort, according to Shaw with Greystar. “I have worked with both on- and off-campus projects, and in my experience, on-campus third-party management is significantly more challenging with more demands being placed on onsite and regional management staff,” he says.

“At the same time the experience can be extremely rewarding,” Shaw continues. “Being part of a new housing project that has added much needed housing to a campus with existing housing, or the transformation to a campus offering housing for the first time, presents opportunities to collaborate with many types of diverse institutions and owners.”