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TEMPE, AZ-When plans were unveiled for the 866-bed Vista del Sol on the Arizona State University campus, the upper-class student residence hall attracted its share of attention. But for ASU, the project, which is going vertical in partnership with American Campus Communities, is adding needed beds to a growing student population.

“We don’t have enough student housing,” says Michael Coakley, associate dean of student affairs and executive director of university housing for Arizona State University. Coakley says housing demand in recent years has spiked due to growth in enrollment and a university directive to put more freshman students into on-campus housing.

As a result, ASU has been turning to private/public partnership developments like Vista del Sol at 701 E. Apache Blvd. Preleasing has the beds 100% filled for Vista’s fall opening.

Also under construction is Barrett, the Honors College, a 1,700-plus bed project at Rural Road and Apache Boulevard, which will house students from freshmen to senior years. It will be ready for the 2009 fall semester. ASU won’t start taking applications for Barrett until after next July 1, but “we expect it will be fully leased by the time it opens,” Coakley tells GlobeSt.com. ASU also is planning a complex for its Downtown campus and will soon begin remodeling its Manzanita Hall at 600 E. University Ave. in Tempe.

But there is still room–and need–for a lot more units. ASU’s projected growth means 22,500 beds will be needed by 2015. This fall, it will have 13,000 beds.

The challenge isn’t confined simply to ASU. Its chief rival and neighbor to the south, the University of Arizona in Tucson, is facing a similar dilemma. In November, construction will begin on the 1,080-bed Sixth Street Housing to meet demand from the burgeoning student population of the University of Arizona.

“We can’t build spaces as fast as we’re bringing in freshmen,” says James Van Arsdale, director of residence life for the University of Arizona. “Generally speaking, about 80% of our incoming freshmen want to live on campus, so for every 100 additional freshmen we have enrolling, 80 people are clamoring on the doorstep to come in.”

The Sixth Street project will be eight buildings, anticipated to be done in 2010 and 2011. Van Arsdale says it’s the only project on the drawing board for the college, but that could change.

Although the two colleges are rivals, they share many things in common when it comes to student housing. Van Arsdale and Coakley concur that student housing, particularly during the first year, is vitally important to retaining the students and ensuring their academic experiences are good ones.

“The experience the students have here, how much they are engaged in the university community and connection to their peer groups has a huge impact on retention during the first and second years,” Coakley says. As a result, first-year student housing tends to be higher density to foster community and contacts among freshmen.

Additionally, student housing has a definite impact on a grade point average, particularly during the freshman year. “All the research we do points to the relationship between students living on campus in communities and their academic success,” Van Arsdale says. “That’s why we’re interested in getting students together in more group-like social settings. It’s our belief that the social experience creates a higher degree of academic success.”

If the two universities disagree on anything, it is how to go about adding student housing. Van Arsdale says that, when it comes to freshman dorms on campus, University of Arizona prefers the traditional model rather than farming out the process to a third party. It has done joint ventures with private developers in the past.

Coakley says ASU has all kinds of models like its public/private agreement with Austin, TX-based American Campus Communities to non-profit corporate set-ups to the more traditional model. He and Van Arsdale agree it’s not a “one size fits all” method.

“We look at the question of joint venture versus traditional mode every time we’re preparing a project to build,” Van Arsdale says.

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