As students prepare to go back to school, the question on the minds of many student housing operators is “Has a university education changed forever?”

Universities in the US represent about 20 million students, faculty and staff. That’s almost the same as the population of Chile in South America or Romania in Europe.

those planning to reopen campus to students have different ideas about how best to do that. Duke University announced Sunday that it would limit campus housing to mainly first-year students and sophomores, rather than bringing back juniors and seniors as well. Stanford University will alternate groups of students by class year for each 10-week academic quarter; Harvard University plans to allow mainly just first-year undergraduates on its Cambridge, Mass., campus. The neighboring Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus is hosting mainly seniors.

Cornell currently plans to return students to its Ithaca, N.Y., campus, with a mix of face-to-face and online classes.

The University of California, Berkeley announced last week that fall classes would begin online, and said face-to-face instruction won’t start until the Bay Area’s Covid-19 resurgence is reversed.

At Temple University in Philadelphia they are going to be making changes at the individual course level. They plan a return to campus in the fall.

Some will be In-person classes: These are the typical, traditional classroom or seminar-style classes, but they will take place in rooms adjusted to allow for each student and the instructor to maintain six feet of distance from each other.

Hybrid classes: These classes will blend in-person and online learning in an effort to reduce the number of students on campus and in classrooms at once.

Online classes: These classes will be conducted fully online.

I know of several students who elected to take a year off. They didn’t want their university experience to be compromised because of the constraints being imposed by the pandemic.

There is a perception that watching a video online is a lower value experience than an in person experience. If you’re a student and you were expecting to pay a huge sum of money, possibly going into debt to sit at home and attend classes by video conference, there’s a good chance you’re going to think twice about making that investment in that way.

Now if you’re in a faculty like medicine on dentistry, many of those classes can’t be taught in an online format. You’re not likely to take a year off from medical school waiting for the pandemic to pass.

The folks at UT had already transitioned 52% of the classes at their Arlington campus to having an online option prior to the pandemic. They too will have a mixture of on campus classes, hybrid classes and fully online classes. Some of the hybrid classes will conduct the lectures fully online, but hold the labs in the lab with smaller lab numbers and increasing the times available for the labs.

One thing is clear, the attendance on campus this year will be lower than in past years. If you’re a student housing owner or operator, you have to be thinking about three questions:

  1. How will I get through the 2020/2021 academic school year?
  2. What will university life look like after the pandemic?
  3. How long will we be living with the pandemic?

If there is going to be long term vacancy in student housing this year, how will the monthly income be affected? Not just will you be one of the unlucky ones experiencing a vacancy, but will operators vying for a smaller student population drop prices in order to attract tenants?

Student housing operators are accustomed to renting by the bedroom and they typically get a premium over a market rate rental.