Case Study

Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tennessee

Graduate and Professional Student
Residential Village Study, 2016-2017

Demographic Perspectives was engaged by Vanderbilt University (VU) to assess the need for graduate and professional student housing near the campus. Nashville is a fast-growing city with a very tight and expensive housing market. VU found that the lack of accessible and affordable housing was affecting the recruitment and retention of graduate and professional students. The overall goals of the study were to determine the demand for proposed graduate and professional student housing and refine an understanding of student needs, preferences and satisfactions for the housing.

Initially, DP conducted stakeholder interviews with graduate and professional deans, faculty, and staff to compare and contrast stakeholder visions of appropriate graduate and professional student housing for VU.

In order to determine housing and neighborhood price-points, current student residences and the necessary amenities for a neighborhood, DP undertook a Retail Market Scan and a Rental Market analysis in the VU vicinity as well as a student location analysis.

Additionally, DP developed a Peer Benchmarking study to review peer trends in graduate student housing including unit types, common spaces, policies and priority populations, and intellectual and social programming. We accompanied the entire VU Housing Working Group on guided visits to six peers located in Boston and New York City.

In order to understand how housing plays a role in recruitment, acclimation to graduate and professional student life, and retention and completion of degrees, the on-site study included initial student focus groups, phone interviews and meetings with student organizations. We developed housing and location options and held an Options workshop with stakeholders to discuss the variety of alternatives.

Using the clear outcomes from the VU team Options Workshop, DP was then able to craft and implement a student survey and hold additional in-depth graduate and professional student focus groups. The analysis allowed DP to evaluate actionable solutions to address the issues related to current students’ housing situations (location, cost, building, unit, living situation and transportation). See Vanderbilt’s project summary here.

Actionable Outcomes

  • Developed clear actionable actions by policy and product including:
    • Identified priority populations as 1st year students, international students and families.
    • Noted impact of proximity to campus helping with recruiting, allowing for easier student adjustment and a more engaged student experience but also accompanied by higher cost.
    • Confirmed that the new private-market construction in the campus vicinity is too expensive for students, and units are larger than students would prefer.
    • Established that students would prefer housing with laundry in unit, designated parking, healthy, smoke-free buildings and outdoor green space in safe neighborhoods.
    • Flexible leasing policies including renewable leases and varied length of term would ease stress level for students.
    • Strong demand identified from professional schools with higher demand from those who live alone or with one housemate.
  • VU’s next steps included reviewing proposed cost structure of new housing, evaluating various management structures, refining proposed unit concepts with students and developing a communications strategy to promote a culture change through housing.
  • VU has moved forward with an RFP to develop housing using the criteria identified in the study.

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