Graduate Housing Survey, 1998-99

GAPSA Executive Summary of a Survey

February 12, 1999

The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) surveyed the graduate and professional student population at the University of Pennsylvania to determine student opinion of Graduate Housing choices and identify opportunities for better matching the University offering to student preferences.

This report analyzes the survey response in an effort to draw conclusions and provide recommendations in the following areas:

  • What are current graduate student preferences?
  • What can the University do to improve students' perceptions of its offering?
  • What structural changes can the University make to its offering to improve satisfaction?

Methodology and Demographic Breakdown

An online survey was administered to graduate students from the different schools of the University of Pennsylvania. 301 students responded electronically, representing twelve schools from Penn, with the majority of respondents (40% or 117 out of 301) coming from Wharton. (Five students did not disclose their school affiliation.)

55% of the respondents are enrolled in Master level programs, while the rest are enrolled in the Ph.D./M.D. program. Most of the respondents (89%) had no dependents, while the remainder who did have dependents usually had one dependent (7% of total).

The majority of respondents (56% or 168 out of 301) lived in Center City, Philadelphia. 17% lived on-campus and another 17% lived in West Philadelphia (a separate category). A small percentage (7%) lived in the Pennsylvania suburbs. 23% of the respondents are international students.

Although the survey responses are heavily skewed towards respondents from Wharton, the following key results will show that opinions tend to be fairly standardized across schools, aside from a few exceptions worthy of note.

Key Result:

Are respondents happy with their current choice of residence?

After a range of preferences about housing concerns was surveyed, one survey item posed this important question: "If all your ideal preferences were met, where would you choose to live?" Most students (58% or 175 out of 301) would choose to live in Center City, with standardized results across schools. This figure is comparable with the earlier figure of 56% respondents currently living in Center City. It is also confirmed by one survey item that posed the question,"Based on your current housing situation, would you make the same choice of residence again?" 86% said yes, they would make the same choice again. This indicates that students as a whole are satisfied with their choice of residence.

However, when the results are broken down by current residence, it is clear that students who choose on-campus housing are much less satisfied with their situation. In fact, 95% of current Center City residents would choose Center City again, while only 62% of current on-campus housing residents would choose to live on-campus again.

In order to determine why there is a lower level of satisfaction amongst students living in on-campus housing, the survey attempted to answer the following questions:

  • What benefits are graduate students looking for in choosing where to live?
  • What benefits might Center City provide that on-campus housing does not provide?
  • Could the differences in satisfaction simply be attributed to perceptions? (i.e., people are just not well informed about the benefits of on-campus housing, etc.)
  • Do identifiable and accessible market segments exist within the graduate student population?

What benefits are graduate students looking for in choosing where to live?

To identify the benefits most important to graduate students, the survey posed the question "Why did you choose to live in your current residence?"

A range of benefits was enumerated and respondents were asked to rank items in order of importance. The respondents were given a scale from 4, extremely important, to 1, not important, with a higher mean score indicating increased importance to graduate students.

Benefit Item


Standard Deviation

Security 3.08 0.9
Location 3.04 0.96
Proximity to School 2.85 0.92
Price 2.81 0.94
Social Life 2.19 0.97
Selection of Appliances 2.16 0.96
Access to Shopping Areas 2.09 0.87
Floor Plan 2.03 0.87
Internet/Telephony Connections 1.93 1.02
Parking 1.81 1.08
Proximity to Work 1.71 1.06
Pets 1.41 0.98
Furniture Provided 1.23 0.65
Space for Dependents 1.18 0.7
On-Campus Housing Unavailable 1.17 0.78

As the results show, Security and Location are the most important benefits. Proximity to School and Price comes next, while the rest fall into less important categories.

Responses tended to be fairly standard across schools, although some items bear further examination:

  • Security, the most important consideration, was important for most schools, but ranked comparatively less important by SAS (2.9/4.0) and Engineering (2.7/4.0). These two schools were well-represented (40 SAS students and 29 Engineering students responded). A reasonable conclusion from this detail is that an emphasis on "security" may not be the best approach in getting the attention of SAS and Engineering students. There is something else which they prefer--survey results say that these two schools along with others (Medicine, Education, Dental) value Proximity to School more than Security, probably because of the time they spend on campus.
  • Price reveals some interesting results. It is less important for SAS and Wharton students, but very important for students from Social Work, Fine Arts and Law.

These differences provide a preliminary indication of definable market segments within the graduate student population based on school affiliation.

The availability of on-campus housing was not an issue. There were other items considered as more important bases for choosing where to live. This most likely reflects past vacancy rates of graduate housing and the fact that a scarcity of this housing is not driving the decision process.

What benefits might Center City provide that on-campus housing does not provide?

In an attempt to identify those benefits not provided by on-campus housing, the survey posed the question "What are your perceptions of on-campus housing?" Presumably, graduate students would choose not to live in on-campus housing because of perceptions of poor benefits derived from certain items.

Students were asked to respond to this question based on the following scale: 1 = Bad to 5 = Excellent, with a higher mean score indicating the perception that on-campus housing does in fact succeed in providing this benefit.

Benefit Item


Standard Deviation

Proximity to School 4.26 1.55
Internet/Telephony Connections 3.86 1.53
Location 3.27 1.6
Security 3.25 1.33
Proximity to Work 2.65 1.94
Social Life 2.56 1.34
Selection of Appliances 2.48 1.3
Access to Shopping Areas 2.25 1.21
Furniture Provided 2.25 1.18
Floor Plan 2.08 1.14
Parking 1.95 1.2
Price 1.91 1.09
Space for Dependents 1.51 1.35
On-Campus Housing Unavailable 1.5 1.57
Pets 1.38 1.2

When these results are compared to those benefits as identified as being most important to graduate students, the most valid difference worthy of attention seems to be Price. On-campus housing ranks Price 12th in terms of a perceived benefit whereas Price ranks 4th in terms of an important benefit as detailed in the previous section of the report.

Price is intuitively related to Space-raising the question of whether graduate students are getting value for their money in terms of the price they pay for the space they get in on-campus housing. The results of the survey seem to imply that graduate students are not getting value for their money in comparison to off-campus housing choices.

This point is strongly supported by the qualitative data solicited by the survey. Some comments are of course more constructive than others-in general, however, it is important to note the number and similarity of responses offered addressing the price to space ratio. Some examples:

--"The rent is about 150% of the rent for equiv-alent accommodations available near campus."

-- "Too expensive for such a little space."

--"Penn Grad Housing (the Grad Towers) is as expensive as Center City apartments, but the apartments are smaller-with especially small kitchens and bedrooms."

--"For the price of living on campus, you can get a bigger and better place somewhere else."

--"Rent is too high for the type of living arrangements that are available."

--"The price is the main factor that kept me from choosing on-campus housing. In other areas of the city, I found much more spacious accommodations for a much better price."

Although Price seems to be a major concern, on-campus housing succeeds in providing other key benefits important to graduate students:

  • Proximity to School (for obvious reasons) is the strongest benefit conveyed by on-campus housing. This is important for marketing implications since this same item is also a strong basis for choice of residence, as indicated in the previous section. On-campus housing's proximity to school is perceived as excellent for people in Medicine, Dental, Engineering and Education. Conversely, it is perceived as less impressive (but still very impressive) for Wharton students, the majority of whom live in Center City already. International students seem to like this aspect of on-campus housing as well.
  • Internet/Telephony Connections (the Resnet service provided seems to be a real favorite) and Location were also perceived to be excellent. Security was also perceived in a good light, which implies an opportunity for administrators wishing to promote on-campus housing, since from the previous section, security was identified as a key concern.

Could the differences in satisfaction simply be attributed to perceptions?

A nonparametric test was run to determine whether choice of residence would be influenced by perceptions. By examining whether or not people who live in on-campus housing feel the same way as people who live off-campus when it comes to likes and dislikes (assuming homogeneity in preferences) it was possible to rule out personal idiosyncrasies and isolate key benefits--price, location, etc.--as the bases for decision-making. As a result of the test, three key items which were significant determinants were identified: Security, Proximity to School and Location. These results confirm the findings of the previous section, which ranked these three items as the most significant bases by which students made their choice of residence.

Do identifiable and accessible market segments exist within the graduate student population?

As indicated by earlier results, there appear to be identifiable market segments within the graduate student population based on school.

However, the survey also posed the question, "For On-Campus Housing, is Mixed School or School Segregated Housing optimal?" The responses to this question indicate that graduate students prefer to live in Mixed School Housing, making any school market segments identified difficult to access.

A large majority of students prefer Mixed School Housing. More than 80% of students from every school except Wharton (63.25%), Nursing (70%), and Medicine (77.78%) prefer Mixed School Housing.

Recommendations and Conclusions

The survey demonstrates that graduate student satisfaction with on-campus housing remains low compared to other housing alternatives despite the fact that on-campus housing scores very well on many of the key determinants of choice for graduate students such as Security, Proximity to School, and Location. This implies that:

a) the costs of living in on-campus housing outweigh the benefits--i.e., poor price-to-space ratio; or

b) students have a poor perception of on-campus housing owing from high costs relative to benefits; or

c) there are as yet unidentified personal idiosyncrasies involved ("but its more hip to live in Center City where all the action is!").

Both (b) and (c) can be addressed by a change in marketing and positioning to improve perceptions, but the fundamental problem implied by (a) can only be addressed by structural changes in the price-space ratio of on-campus housing.

In the area of improving graduate student perceptions of on-campus housing through marketing and positioning, promoters should focus on those benefits important to graduate students for which on-campus housing received high marks such as Security, Proximity to School and Location.

In addition, structural changes must be made in the on-campus housing offering for graduate student satisfaction to truly improve. Until this type of change occurs, the cycle of low satisfaction, high turnover, and inflated promotion costs will be perpetuated. In order to break this cycle, the University should investigate alternatives to lower the Price of on-campus housing and/or renovate existing Space to improve the quality, amount, and type of spaces offered.

In conclusion, the Graduate Housing survey indicates that graduate students do indeed have clear and strong preferences in this area. Further, the survey identifies an opportunity for the University to increase graduate student satisfaction with on-campus housing not only by improving student perceptions of its offering but also, and more importantly, by improving the offering itself.

--Victor Franco M. Calanog, Wharton Representative, GAPSA

--Doug Hagan, Chair, GAPSA

--Angelos D. Keromytis, Communications Chair, GAPSA

--Kenneth Kolaczyk, Policy Chair, GAPSA

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 22, February 23, 1999