Keith Jernigan headshot

More Than Bricks

An Interview with Keith Jernigan

In the student housing industry, there’s a unique tapestry of stories woven together by individuals whose passion goes beyond bricks and mortar. Meet Keith Jernigan, the passionate Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of Student Quarters, whose journey into the heartbeat of student living is as fascinating as the eager young minds he serves.

A Unique Journey

Keith Jernigan’s story is not just one of professional ascent but a record of friendship, family, and the unexpected. “I am blessed to be married to my wife, Julia, for almost 25 years and have two great kids, Alan and Kappi,” he shares, painting a picture of a life rich with personal connections. Jernigan’s trajectory began in commercial real estate law, a career that saw him cross paths with a dear friend, Andy Feinour, the visionary founder of Student Quarters.

Over two decades of friendship, their lives took an unexpected turn when Andy decided to embark on the journey of creating Student Quarters. Jernigan found himself not just as outside counsel but a key player in the narrative of a growing venture. “When he decided to start Student Quarters, I was fortunate to become its outside counsel. As Student Quarters grew, the opportunity arose for me to join the company full time as its COO and GC, and I have been here ever since,” he shares.

A Contagious Enthusiasm 

Jernigan’s enthusiasm for student housing is contagious. His involvement began early in his career, representing one of the first student housing developers. “What I love about it is working with college kids. There is something about 18-22 year olds that I really find inspiring. They grow so much in these years away from home,” he reflects, a touch of parental comfort in his words.

Having recently witnessed his own son’s graduation and with a daughter navigating sophomore year in college, Jernigan is not just a leader; he’s a parent figure to thousands, aiming to inspire and guide them through the journey of becoming truly independent. “They have energy, are generally fun to be around, and at the same time, they are looking for a little guidance. I love that we get to play a role in this process by giving them a safe, productive place to live,” he adds. 

Resilience and Pride: Student Quarters in 2023

The resilience of Student Quarters in the face of an economy riddled with financial challenges is a testament to its commitment. Jernigan, with a palpable sense of pride, shares, “I am really proud that we were able to continue to deliver results for our residents, partners and employees in a really difficult financial environment.” 

In addition, Jernigan added how proud he is to continue to provide a great experience and environment for all 11,000+ students living with Student Quarters. In spite of the headwinds this year, the company grew their employment force by 15%, expanded their partner network, and established more third party management relationships. In addition, Student Quarters completed construction at Derby Row in Louisville and acquired The Connector in Atlanta, the largest deal in the company’s history. The company not only weathered the storm but thrived, adding new faces, expanding networks, and achieving milestones that etched 2023 as a historic chapter. 

Anticipating 2024: Questioning the Status Quo

Looking ahead, Jernigan is not one to set his sights on rest and instead shares his excitement for the upcoming year. “In 2024, I am looking forward to questioning the status quo. I personally intend to spend a good bit of time looking at how we are delivering results for our residents and how we can improve. To me, the process of constantly striving to do things better is one of the parts I enjoy the most. It keeps us all engaged and provides opportunities for everyone to grow and advance.” This not so subtle hint at a commitment to continuous improvement is what defines the culture of Student Quarters.

The Essence of SQUAD

Beyond the milestones, at the core of Student Quarters lies a simple yet powerful essence—its core values. Jernigan emphasizes, “If we follow these core values, then our residents, our partners, our vendors, and our employees will have a great experience with SQ.” For Jernigan, dependability, transparency, authenticity, and intentionality is the secret sauce that sets Student Quarters apart. “We pride ourselves on being honest and transparent with all people in all areas. That is important to us. If we follow our Core Values, then the results will follow.”

But why do these core values resonate so strongly? The answer, according to Jernigan, lies in one word—consistency. “The Student Quarters values are not just another flashy acronym; they are the company’s reputation and roadmap” he explains, painting a vivid picture of a company guided by unwavering principles. If you ever have the pleasure of working with or for Student Quarters, then you will also have the pleasure of knowing how true that sentiment is. 

The Most Influential Advice

As our conversation nears its end, Jernigan imparts some wisdom that has helped to guide his path: “My Dad taught me that reputation is everything. For better or worse, your reputation will define how people view you.” It’s a mantra that underlines the importance of honesty and respect, values that echo through Student Quarters.

At Student Quarters, Keith Jernigan’s story is not just about titles and achievements. It’s a narrative of genuine connections, resilience in adversity, and a commitment to fostering an environment where young minds flourish. As Student Quarters strides into the challenges of 2024, Jernigan’s leadership promises not just growth but an unwavering dedication to the values that make Student Quarters more than just a housing provider—it’s a home for every bright young mind to learn and grow as they begin a new chapter in their life.