Average freshmen spend more than $1,000 on dorm and school supplies

Zach Pluhacek and Zach Pluhacek

LINCOLN, Neb. – Things were much different when Glen Schumann, associate director of housing facilities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, first stepped into the then-newly-constructed Abel Hall as a freshman in 1965. For one, he was able to “survive” with only two pairs of jeans, a suit, four shirts and a rocking chair he brought from home.

“I moved out of my car in to my room in 15 minutes … and the reason was, I had to wait on the elevator,” he said.

Now, estimates are placing freshman student spending at over $1,100 for “back-to-college” purchases, including dorm furnishings, school supplies, textbooks, clothing and shoes.

The fastest growing market of all is electronics, which is expected to see a 27.5 percent increase in revenue compared to last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2006 Back-to-College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. That puts student spending at $10.4 billion nationwide on electronic items alone.

“Today’s college students were using computers before they could write, which explains their gravitation toward electronics,” said NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin in a press release Tuesday. “By merchandising and marketing to the college crowd, retailers are hoping to not only boost this year’s sales but also gain customers for life.”

NRF officials attribute this increase to the number of small electronic devices and specialty items being purchased by students, including iPods, notebook computers, flat screen TVs and gaming systems.

“When I moved in to Abel Hall, there wasn’t a television set anywhere in the complex,” Schumann said. “Last year I saw two gentlemen at Abel Hall bring in a 52-inch TV, and that, to me, is the most lavish thing I’ve seen. They are bringing in large TVs, larger TVs than ever before … it’s amazing to me the amount of electronic things they will bring in.”

In addition to electronic items, student spending on textbooks, clothing and accessories and dorm or apartment furnishings are expected to push back-to-college numbers to a total of $36.6 billion.

The seasonal retail boost is more than just a bounce: The combined $54.2 billion expected in back-to-school and back-to-college spending is so large, it ranks second only to holiday spending, according to the NRF survey.