The Latest Student Housing Trends from ACUHO-I Conference and Expo: Creating Housing for the Future with a Focus on Wellbeing and Community

July 27, 2023  /  News Blog,

Students today want more from their higher education student housing. With a multitude of on and off campus options, student housing developers, architects, and general contractors need to understand what experience students are looking for when they choose their housing, and what they value in campus communities overall.

Earlier this summer, Emily Kessinger, The Weitz Company’s Senior Business Development Manager for Weitz National, had the opportunity to attend the ACUHO-I Conference and Expo. The Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I), is “dedicated to delivering transformative residential student experiences through extensive knowledge resources, innovative operational models, courageous advocacy, and resolute community connections”. Below is Emily’s firsthand account of her conference experience, where she learned that wellbeing, a sense of community, and unique amenities such as rooftop pollinator gardens are driving today’s students.

From June 26 to June 29, I attended the ACUHO-I National Conference in Portland, OR. Hosted at the Portland Convention Center, the conference had over 1000 attendees, nearly 100 sessions, dozens of activities (including a 5k run/walk, which I participated in!), and an exhibit hall.

Many panels throughout the conference focused on student experience and life, diversity, equity, inclusion, and more. I was able to attend several seminars, though deciding which ones is always tricky when there are so many worthwhile topics and esteemed speakers. 

One of my favorite panels featured Dr. Mary Elliott, Director of Residence Life and Housing at Colorado School of Mines, and Sarah Chapman and Jeff Hyslop from NAC Architecture, a national award-winning design firm. Dr. Elliott, Sarah, and Jeff discussed how they support neurodivergent students on the School of Mines campus. Throughout the presentation, they gave examples of how they designed wellbeing into campus life, from creating quiet zones, offering healthy food, providing various ways to access the outdoors, and more. It was a fascinating presentation on mental health, placemaking, learning, connection + belonging, and physical wellness and how they intersect in design and space. They also talked about the dance floor theory related to neurodivergence and setting up areas to accommodate all kinds of learners. 

The Dance Floor Theory: is an engagement system that can be used by any team or organization to better engage their employees or members.

In a later session, architects from Stantec presented the convergence of campus offerings in the centralized campus core and gave examples from universities across North America. Highlights were learning about what shared amenities are essential to today’s students. I loved hearing about the beehive pollinators on a rooftop of a student housing project they designed at CU Denver and the incorporation of murals by nationally and locally renowned artists on the inside and outside buildings in the campus core.

Another great panel featured Executive Directors of Housing from Ohio University (Jneanne Hacker), Cornell University (Tim Blair), and the University of South Carolina (April Barnes); Brailsford & Dunlavey’s Jen Frank moderated. These student housing leaders talked about campus life, the challenges, and the opportunities they face in the modern age (on-campus housing vs. off-campus, when to have requirements for housing, technology, and more). It was enlightening to learn more about the complexities of coordinating student move-in, the student experience, and how universities are adapting and changing operations due to COVID.

ACUHO-I has always done a great job with its conferences. I’m always excited to attend to learn more about the trends and opportunities in student housing on campuses across the US. 

Visit their website for more information on the ACUHO-I National Conference 2023 and its speakers!