When Mi Kyung Kim was trying to decide which university to attend three years ago, she had more on her mind than the quality of academic programs, the size of the lecture halls or the number of National Merit scholars walking through the quad.
She wanted a campus with a touch of domesticity, where she would have more than a roof over her head at the end of the day.
"At first, where you live may not seem so pertinent because basically you're going to college for an education," said Kim, now a UCLA junior majoring in anthropology. "But after a whole day of class, I like to go back to a place that I can call home."
There was a time when students like Kim could not expect such creature comforts. They were either packed into sterile, functional campus dormitories or, fed up with the crowding and lack of privacy, decided to run the gantlet of cheap, Zhivagoesque apartments and rental houses in the predatory off-campus housing market. The best hope: that the rent was low and the plumbing worked.
But today, students are demanding more than just "Gimme Shelter." Mindful of their market, campus housing officials are scrambling to respond.
Thus, Kim and 1,366 other UCLA students can choose to live in Sunset Village, the school's newest residential complex that resembles an upscale suburban enclave, not the barracks-like functional architecture of years past. With an apartment-like layout that guarantees added privacy, Kim likes the 2-year-old complex so much that she has lived in the same room since her freshman year.
More and more, colleges are building complexes like Sunset Village as a way to lure and keep students anchored to campuses. These newer developments sometimes offer a holistic touch, with live-in professors, theme housing, nearby shops and conveniences that students once only dreamed about.
In UCLA's case, it was competition with Westwood landlords that prompted student housing officials to pay closer attention to the domestic needs of the 5,627 undergraduates living on campus.
Five years ago, college officials had nothing to worry about. With housing in Westwood tight and rents high, thousands of students signed waiting lists just to find a place on campus, said Jack Gibbons, associate director of UCLA's Office of Residential Life.
The picture changed drastically when a building boom in Westwood and the recession led to a surplus of apartments. Landlords cut rents, triggering an exodus of students from the old-fashioned dormitories into cheaper Westwood apartments. The waiting lists dwindled and UCLA housing officials faced vacant dorm rooms.
"Students found acceptable alternatives elsewhere as local, private landlords offered incentives, such as 'Come live with us and you'll get a free trip to Hawaii' or 'We'll pay your fall (registration) fees for you,' " Gibbons said.
"So, in order to retain residents from one year to the next, and attract new students, we have done some things to market our desirability in housing programs," he said.
Those changes include the construction of Sunset Village.
The $90-million complex has three buildings, with modern architecture and landscaping crossed with sidewalks and dotted with magnolia trees. Unlike traditional dorms, rooms resemble apartments, affording privacy with individual bathrooms, air conditioning and heaters.
"When I first moved in, I just loved it," Kim said. "I felt like I was moving into a mini-apartment. And I was glad because I didn't want to feel like I was living in an anonymous cubicle."
Other students said the private bathrooms--rather than the communal facilities used in dorms--were also key in attracting students to Sunset Village.
"It's really cool here. We have our own bathroom and it's really important to us girls," said third-year business and economics major Frances Ng.
Because there is so much counter space, Ng added, she sometimes studies in the bathroom.
Third-year student Bobby Lee said private bathrooms were essential for another reason. As a freshman living in one of UCLA's high-rise dorms, Lee said he and his roommate once made the embarrassing mistake of walking into the girls' bathroom.
"I told my mother if I was going to live in the dorms at all, then I wanted to live in Sunset Village because I needed a quieter, bigger space with its own bathroom," Lee said.
Nestled in the middle of Sunset Village's residential space is another popular amenity--a commons building, where students can mingle with resident professors, talk to counselors, get tutoring or do their homework in a computer lab. First-year students can also take freshman seminars in the building.
Across the way there is Puzzles, an arcade and after-hours fast-food restaurant, as well as Hilltop, a mini-student union where students can buy anything ranging from school supplies to compact discs.
"The result is that we've more fully integrated the students' academic experience with their residential experience," Gibbons said.