Nearly all of the 2,800 students at St. Olaf College live on the Northfield, Minn., campus all four years they attend the school. So administrators decided “if students are going to live here, let's make the campus more livable.”

That meant giving students more than just a classroom education. It meant providing comfortable places for students to shop, play games, listen to music, sip cappuccinos, or just hang out.

With the help of a $26 million donation, the college built Buntrock Commons, a 175,000-square-foot student center that includes dining facilities, a bookstore, post office, theater, coffee shop, night club, meeting rooms, student-activity offices and other space.

“It has definitely met or exceeded all our expectations,” says Tim Schroer, director of the commons.

St. Olaf is one of many colleges and universities that are enhancing the services and amenities offered students. Schools that persuade students to spend their leisure time — and dollars — on campus can increase revenues as well as strengthen the overall quality of life on campus.

What students want

The young women and men arriving on college campuses these days have different expectations than their parents did a generation ago — or even than their older sibling did a few years ago.

“These days it's very difficult to find students who didn't have their own bedrooms at home,” says Jon Lewis, executive director of auxiliary services at the University of Maine (UM) in Orono.

So UM and many other schools are remodeling their student residences from traditional double-occupancy rooms to suite-style arrangements with single rooms. Schools also are routinely wiring residence halls for computers and Internet access to meet the desires of students and the academic demands of their professors.

Students on campus are more likely than before to have access to an automobile, so if something is not available on campus, they have no qualms about driving elsewhere to find it. In response, many schools are bringing more consumer options to campus — convenience stores, coffee shops, brand-name retail establishments and more.

Today's students also are less likely to be satisfied with a one-system-fits-all style of meal delivery.

“They want more flexibility so they don't only have to eat in traditional cafeterias,” says Lewis.

Many schools are allowing some of the money allocated for dining services to be spent outside the traditional dining halls at other establishments on campus, or even at off-campus stores and restaurants. The type of dining options a student has chosen and the amount of money available to be spent on food — at the dining hall or elsewhere — can be stored easily on magnetic stripes or computer chips that are routinely included as part of a student's identification card.

Although it's unlikely that students would choose to attend a particular college based on the dining options offered, it can significantly affect how students view their experiences on campus, says Lewis.

“Food service can turn into a negative if you're not aggressive and don't keep it comparable to other schools.”