On a recent sunny afternoon, Amber Phillips and Brianna Sowden were relaxing in lounge chairs as water lapped at their feet from the beach-access saltwater pool at The Retreat at Knoxville.

Not far away, mock mimosas and peach mango Bellinis were being served inside The Retreat’s two-story clubhouse, which also includes free tanning, a fitness center and a movie theater.

Students living in lap of luxury

The description sounds like a five-star hotel but it’s actually housing for college students. The Retreat at Knoxville is among a growing number of off-campus student apartment buildings in Knoxville marketing themselves as luxury student living to meet the rising demand and expectations of today’s college students.

“Student expectations are higher because there are places like this that are affordable,” said Phillips, a senior at Lincoln Memorial University. “New developments like this raise the expectations.” 

Since 2010, at least 1,530 off-campus student housing units representing more than 4,000 beds have been built or are in the works in Knox County, according to data from the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the city and individual developers. Many of them boast swimming pools and fitness centers, movie theaters and shuttles to the University of Tennessee campus. 

Meanwhile, the number of students who can be housed at UT has not changed for more than 45 years, although recent investments…