Positioning on-campus housing as the best option for student success (UWaterloo)

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The Situation

Post-secondary students living in Waterloo, Ontario have more housing options than those of any other city in Canada. With a housing surplus of more than 1,000 beds, competition is tight among those offering off-campus student accommodations. This intense pressure also applies to the Housing and Residences department at the University of Waterloo.

When it saw that applications from incoming students for on-campus housing were low, UWaterloo’s housing team knew that they needed to better understand the needs and expectations of incoming students if they were going to help both domestic and international students succeed.

The team had the facts on their side. The school had participated in a significant 2016 housing study with Academica Group and four other major universities, which had shown that living in residence in one’s first year of university has a positive impact on GPA, retention to second year, and persistence to graduation. 

But whether incoming students were aware of these benefits was another question entirely.

To learn more about this question, UWaterloo reached out to Academica to better understand the expectations that incoming students bring to post-secondary housing.

The Solution

A key part of UWaterloo’s mission is to constantly improve the student experience by making informed decisions based on timely and accurate research. Working with Academica, UWaterloo launched a survey among students in February and March of 2018 to learn more about what they expected from their post-secondary housing choices.

Overall, the study identified five top factors that influence students’ choice of housing—cost, location, safety, amenities, and academic support. UWaterloo took this information and worked with its four affiliated university colleges to create an engaging five-day digital marketing campaign, devoting each day entirely to educating prospective students about one of these five key decision factors.

With respect to safety, the survey also found significant differences between domestic and international students, with the latter weighting safety much more heavily in their decision of where to live. International students were also more concerned about the reliability of housing, which is understandable, as many of these students don’t see their lodgings until they arrive in Canada. UWaterloo used this insight to provide more targeted messaging to international students to reassure them of the quality and safety of UWaterloo's housing options, in addition to providing more university advising services that were directly connected to Housing and Residences.

Finally, UWaterloo’s housing team made sure to share the results of this study with all staff who were working on the front lines with students. They gave all managers access to the report’s findings and presented key results at a university-wide meeting to help stakeholders learn more about the expectations of incoming students, and what more can be done to shape and fulfill these expectations.

“Working closely with the knowledgeable and accommodating Academica team not only helped us to achieve our project goals, but to think more broadly about our strategy. We’d highly recommend them to anyone looking for an edge in the academic sector.”
Megan Lambe
Marketing Specialist, Housing and Residences
University of Waterloo

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