Student Housing Goes Modular

by Katie Sloan

An alternative building trend for today’s student housing environment.


Kevin Bremer Senior Vice President of Field Operations

Higher-education enrollment rates have been on the rise thanks to the young adults of Generation Y. For what seems to be the first time in history, the economic decline has institutions facing significant enrollment increases. Increasing numbers of high school graduates are going to college and educational institutions are struggling to keep up.

Along with an increase in enrollment, there is also higher demand for better living standards and amenities. Students are no longer looking for the “box-like” dormitories of the post-war era, but suites with amenities such as in-room bathrooms, computer access, and mini-kitchens. Simply said, students today are more demanding of their living space, and schools need to keep up or risk being passed over by potential students.

Today’s modular buildings can accommodate the wants and needs of incoming students, meet budget needs without entirely disrupting campus life, and give schools a “greener” reason to build.

During a time when higher education enrollment rates are booming, budget cuts are prominent, expectations from sophisticated students is on the rise, and “going green” is catching on, modular construction is a great alternative for colleges and universities everywhere.

Modular Matchup for Generation Y

Increasing enrollment has forced many schools to realize that they need to expand. Metropolitan schools especially are looking for new ways to accommodate students on campus, although there is a lack of space and budget constraints. Meanwhile, public schools are faced with state budget cuts, relying heavily on tuition and leaving them with too many students and not enough housing.

Traditional building commonly takes years to complete. Modular building, however, can increase a school’s bottom line by allowing universities increase enrollments sooner and start earning more tuition. Consider how much revenue is lost when a dorm is under construction and cannot be used.

On average, students are now taking about five years to graduate, instead of the traditional four. This issue has begun pushing students to off-campus housing, which raises questions of safety and overall experience, leaving some schools with the responsibility of helping upperclassmen find acceptable places to live. In fact, many schools are paying to keep lawyers on retainer to review and approve off-campus leases to assure that students secure safe and legal residences. To conserve space on campus and ensure students have quality housing, some schools have hired modular firms to collaborate with private land owners to build privately-owned, off-campus residences that are school approved and meet their students’ needs.

Time is a major factor for higher-education. Traditional construction is a long, dirty and loud process. Today, most institutions hold classes throughout the year, leaving very little down-time on campus. Unlike traditional construction, modular buildings are manufactured off-site in a factory and then simply dropped into the new location, leaving the educational atmosphere untouched. The installation process from start to finish commonly takes between just a few weeks and three months, which is significantly shorter than the traditional stick-built construction process. This is ideal for a college campus as students can continue learning without being disturbed in a comparably shorter timeframe.

One of the biggest advantages of modular construction is the ability to create a building to match an already existing campus. In addition to new buildings, modular construction can also expand on existing buildings in compliance with a campus’s specifications and be virtually indistinguishable from the original structure.

As an example, when enrollment increased dramatically at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., administrators were faced with the challenge of quickly constructing a new, high-quality residence for students. ModSpace worked with Muhlenberg administrators to develop a state-of-the-art modular residence hall that matched the rest of the 100-year-old campus. In only four months, Muhlenberg had a 35,722-square-foot residence hall. Older campuses, such as the one at Muhlenberg College, are faced with the challenge of adding aesthetically pleasing new buildings to their dated exterior visage. Modular building made it possible to design a dormitory that blends in form and function with the rest of the historic Muhlenberg campus.

A Modular Campus is a Greener Campus

The three fundamental benefits of green building are efficiency, health, and durability. Modular building meets all three. According to the National Science and Technology Council, the construction industry accounts for 40 percent of primary energy consumption and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Modular building helps reduce waste through a controlled manufacturing environment. Repetition in the production process allows material resources to be accurately measured and strategically applied to minimize waste.

Besides the simple challenges of having a budget and searching for space to build, many schools have become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint. Campuses are reaching out to staff and students to determine different ways to “go green.” When considering expanding, schools should keep in mind that modular is the greener option. Like traditional construction, modular can use eco-friendly materials and high-efficiency designs. Going a step further, modular uses factory manufacturing that keeps harmful emissions contained and minimizes waste. It also creates minimal site disruption and long-term impact on land. Modular buildings are easier to repair. Instead of rebuilding, what’s needed can simply be replaced, reducing energy and material consumption.

Overall, sustainability is dramatically improved with modular construction in comparison with conventional building practices. Modular building presents the opportunity to deconstruct and move structures to new locations, extending service life through reuse or recycling.

Looking forward, modular construction continues to grow with the widespread use of recycled, sustainable, and low-toxicity building materials, while meeting the needs and standards of college campuses. This technology is not only sustainable, but can be manufactured, shipped, and assembled on location with the speed and flexibility required by today’s bustling campuses.

— Kevin Bremer is senior vice president of field operations at ModSpace, which can be found on the Web at

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