College Students Could Be Living in Hotels This Fall

Universities are thinking outside the box (and campus) to ensure a socially-distanced semester

Northwestern University football field class of 2023
Northwestern University is considering housing some students in hotels this fall.
Northwestern University/Instagram
By Tanner Garrity / June 2, 2020 6:00 am

A new, distinctly 2020 phrase to add to the lexicon: “hotel-student housing deals.”

Higher-education institutions like Northwestern University and the University of Northern Colorado have publicly indicated that they are looking into renting local hotel rooms for students in order to create one-term “dormitories,” and maximize social distancing, Skift reported. On the other side of the equation, global hotel giants like Hilton and Wyndham have confirmed the talks, but cautioned that nothing is yet set in stone. Officials in the know agree that there are surely more entities — both universities and hotels — interested in the concept.

There is a dizzying array of moving pieces here: most universities know that their cramped, inmate-style methods of housing students (especially freshmen and sophomores) would create unique challenges in containing a virus, especially if the much-speculated “second wave” of coronavirus does arrive this fall. Spreading students out to nearby hotels could theoretically solve the space issue, while encouraging a flow of information of best cleaning practices; professionals in hospitality might have some invaluable tips for schools. An agreement would also guarantee income for hotels, which are hurting across the world, but especially in college towns, where canceled graduations — and thousands of canceled room bookings — has proved an enormous loss.

But there are other factors at play, like no study abroad this fall, which would put more kids on campus, and an expected increase in deferrals, which would introduce some of the smallest freshman classes in decades. It adds up to a logistical nightmare for many schools, and begs the question: Is it all worth it? Many schools, most notably the Cal State consortium, have already committed to online school for this fall. The idea is to reduce mass travel, close-quarters living, and general college-kid grossness, which would potentially prove a breeding ground for COVID-19.

Hotels need to keep in mind, too, that universities aren’t just looking for bedrooms. They’re envisioning bespoke residence halls, where the lobby is a study area and the conference center is a classroom. It would require severe adherence to the whims of universities, which are already notoriously all-mighty in many regions, and could lead to unknown consequences.

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