In the student housing industry, so many of our decisions are made based off reported university enrollment trends. We look at land based on increases, expect higher occupancy and pre-leasing results, rate increases and lower concessions. We rely on enrollment numbers that are given to us, whatever that source might be, in order to calculate:
- How many students will lease a given property if it is built (and at what size).
- The health of a property in the market through a refinance or purchase.
- As the student body seems to wane – based on known enrollment vs. market beds – how rates might need to be changed, or new concessions offered.
So how often are we confirming that the information that we receive is true, accurate and correct? Even when received this data directly from the university itself (what most would consider, our most reliable source) – do we know that what we are looking at is reflective of the student body that we can actively lease to?
Take College Station, Texas, for instance. Here, if you look at the university website that lists the enrollment information (found here) the current enrollment is listed at 73,283 for the 2021 Fall Semester, with 57,428 undergrads. There are over 31.5k beds on the market, with another 2100 coming, according to College House’s most recent data. While students are not required to live on-campus, there are almost 13.5k on-campus beds, as many choose to in at least their first year.
Given the above information, one could quickly deduce that after the approximately 33.6k beds in the making and 13.5 fulfilled by the university, there are approximately 40k+ students looking for housing at the start of the Fall Semester in 2021.
However, this would be absolutely false, and inaccurate. While there are some that might be reading this and can quickly point out some or maybe all of the errors in the above math – to others, this might not be so obvious, which is why I chose to write about it today.
Many don’t realize all the ways that enrollment is calculated and why. Furthermore, all the ways that these numbers can negatively impact important decisions throughout the entire business process, as mentioned above. From land buying to decision-making and expectations – one has to understand how to properly break down enrollment.
Here are important factors to review, and most often remove, when pulling enrollment information from the university:
- Distance Education: This has become a crucial offering for most universities and has allowed many institutions to add an additional income source without having to worry about housing and other associated costs, maximizing ROI. However, this can add a lot to the increase in enrollment and has to be removed from the count to know how many students you can actually physically access. While one could make the argument that there might be students that take online courses while living near campus – this number is typically negligible, and many campuses (like Texas A&M) do allow for you to only remove out of state Distance Students, if you believe that these are still accessible. However, I would recommend against counting them at all. Better safe than sorry later.
- Other Campuses: For many large universities, there are multiple campuses that are spread out over multiple cities. These cities can be very close together, or very far apart. It is up to you, your marketing, operations, or research team, to know the geographic area and whether or not the campuses are applicable to your location. You do not want to include a city that is upwards of 30 miles away and exactly zero students commute to the other campus for any program. A great example of this is ASU – where if you look at their reported enrollment at face value, without removing the campuses, you might be fooled into thinking that all 100k students are accessible to your property, when they absolutely will not be. All cities that are inaccessible should also be removed from your enrollment numbers.
- Part-Time Students: This one is completely up to you. Some choose to take this out, and some choose to keep it in. There are valid points on both sides of this argument. Some students drop down to part-time while living in a community, only to go back to full-time the following semester. It can be job, life, or mental health dependent. This number is not typically huge, usually less than one percent of total enrollment. Generally, it is removed as safe practice though.
Now, if we take all of the factors above into account for the market that we started with, College Station, and recalculate, removing all of the factors listed, we have a total enrollment of about 67k. This is a difference of about 5k students than when we started. While 5k may not seem like a lot when we started with 40k – it begins to matter as the leasing season takes off and those students begin to dwindle, and one has quick leasing decisions to make. Or in the summer months, when one has to figure out how many students remain on campus and how to lease up a property that didn’t fill before the students graduated in May and the student body (as reported) has dropped to a quarter of its size.
Furthermore, this is only one example of all of those that which we serve all over the country. The numbers listed fluctuate greatly across the board and can have drastic effects – market dependent.
Overall, as stated, the accuracy of enrollment data is crucial to the entire business cycle and having over-inflated information can only lead to dastardly effects. Always review the information that you are given for accuracy – or do what we did for our New Development Report (if you haven’t seen it – Check it out here, it’s amazing!) and use College House. Charlie and his team have done an incredible job of doing the leg work for the industry – all of the online students, and non-accessible cities have already been removed for you on the University page. From there, you can further review all of the break down of demographics to help figure out your best plan of action.
Happy Leasing 😊