Years ago, the foremost thing on the minds of many new college students as they arrived at their residence halls for the first time was figuring out how quickly they could move off campus.

Campus living in many instances meant being crammed into a spartan space that offered the latest in bunkbed fashions and the “unique” personalities of one or sometimes two roommates. To bathe or use the telephone, students had to leave their rooms and trudge down the hall. Meal times were set in stone; students who didn't make it to the dining hall for dinner would have to resort to the stash of peanut butter hidden in their sock drawers or tough it out until breakfast the next morning — if they woke up in time.

Who could blame a student for dreaming about finding a place with more appealing living conditions?

For students at many colleges and universities, they can find housing that lives up to their wishes without leaving campus. A growing number of schools have been upgrading their student housing to provide more of what students want. This new campus housing provides some of the freedom of off-campus apartment living, the conveniences students had back home with mom and dad, and the privacy that was lacking in the institutional ambience of old-style residence halls.

“The new space allows us to offer the same amenities as what is available off-campus,” says Todd Justesen, associate director of residence life at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Fla., where two new residence halls opened this year.

On-campus benefits

Higher-education administrators want students to live on campus because they believe it will result in a more rewarding college experience. Some benefits are practical: On-campus residents usually are closer to their classes, have more opportunities to meet people, and don't have to cook their meals or find a parking space each day.

In addition, studies indicate that students living in residence halls are more likely to graduate, get more involved in campus activities, and be more satisfied with their college experience.

But if the accommodations are inadequate or objectionable, those conditions may obscure the benefits of on-campus living and send dissatisfied students searching for better living arrangements.