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The country club-ization of college living

A Brookside property near the University of Missouri.

College juniors Allison Wrabel and Jenn Croft have just moved into their brand new apartment. It's just off the University of Missouri campus here in Columbia. The unit has all the fixings house hunters crave: flat-screen TVs, granite countertops and a bathroom for every bedroom.

Wrabel and Croft have access to roof top pools with adjoining bars, fitness centers, cardio studios and a private shuttle -- all part of the package of living at a Brookside complex.

"It is more expensive and every time I tell people how much I pay, their jaw drops a little bit," says Croft.

Wrabel and Croft's apartment runs about $725 per bedroom, then an extra $35 a month for furnishings and another $55 a month for parking. That's fairly expensive for Columbia. But, Wrabel says being a block away from campus is what really sold her on the apartment, and that she's lucky to have parents help her with rent.

These resort-style complexes are attracting a lot of attention nationwide. The problem some critics have with this housing is that it implicitly segregates students based on affluence.

"The increased building of these upscale communities surrounding college campuses sort of falls in with the trend of what some people call the 'country club-ization of college,'" says Laura Hamilton, who teaches sociology at the University of California, Merced.

Hamilton followed the trajectory of 53 college women over five years. She says the students who couldn't afford to live in fancier housing felt alienated.

"It does create this segregation effect in the sense that these students are able create exclusive social networks with people that are just like themselves," Hamilton says. "And those social networks are often used after college."

Hamilton says students in more modest housing typically are either left behind or burn through student loans to keep up with their wealthier counterparts.

"I really feel that our students are less willing to defer that gratification," says Frankie Minor, the director of residential life at the University of Missouri. "They've grown up in very nice homes. That's what they want now. They don't want that in the future."

He says he has encouraged developers to look at more affordable housing. "No parent wants to deny their son or daughter what they want. The question is can they really afford that?"

So what role do universities have in the business of off-campus housing?

"University officials can encourage or discourage local businesses from creating housing for their students that they think is consistent with what they want to have for those students," says Sara Goldrick-Rab, who researches educational policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But she says, let's face it, these upscale complexes attract wealthier students who end up paying more tuition and becoming big donors.

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