Make the most of campus space to adapt to higher education’s ‘next normal’

Campus assessments to take advantage of wasted space university college

One thing we’ve learned in the past year: The traditional way of doing things isn’t the only way to do them. Nowhere is that truer than in higher education. The pandemic has caused students to re-evaluate what they look for in a college or university and has forced schools to rethink how they provide education and the value they offer.

The way prospective students approach choosing a college or university has changed. Students are focused on what the school can offer them, both in earning a degree and in the overall experience of going to college. That means facilities and amenities can be equally as important as the degree program for many students.

Prospective students and their families are also becoming more interested in the value an institution offers, as Adam Weinberg, president of Denison University, explains:

“Both students and their parents now pay far more attention to the value they receive from higher education as well as what it costs them.”

With an increased emphasis on facilities and amenities and the value your institution can offer, the time may be right for a facilities assessment to create a complete picture of your facility usage so you can plan for the future.

What is a facilities assessment?

A facilities assessment is an in-depth look at the buildings and spaces on your campus, from classrooms to dorms to athletic arenas. Facilities are evaluated on everything from age to the efficiency of the space used. (For schools wanting a larger focus on athletic facilities, we also offer an athletics facilities assessment focusing on the amenities specific to athletics.)

The whole-campus facilities assessment provides a broad perspective of where an institution stands with regard to their facilities. It can identify aging buildings needing upgrades or spaces going unused.

Once the assessment is complete, your campus receives a ranking of where it stands in comparison to other similar institutions. This allows you to see where your school excels and find areas where other colleges and universities may be offering something more appealing.

Why do a facilities assessment?

As colleges return to full-time, on-campus learning, prospective students will likely be more discerning with their education dollars. With so many facilities and amenities closed to students in the past year, enticing future students with high-class facilities – including features focused on health and safety – may be more important than ever before.

Many colleges and universities are also facing a budget crunch with lost dollars from students deferring the start of their college years. A facilities assessment can help your school identify cost savings from repurposing buildings and identifying space currently being wasted.

Because not every college or university has room to expand, an assessment can also help these institutions take advantage of unused space to add new facility options: “Colleges and universities only have so much land, so they have to look to pre-existing facilities when they want to expand,” Alan Gribble writes in University Business.

Repurposing a space can also be a better use of resources. For example, if a residence hall is sitting empty, it could be converted to a hotel to provide lodging for campus guests, which may also provide job and internship opportunities for students. Making more efficient use of existing spaces benefits not only students but the university as a whole. Targeted reconfigurations can bring new life to buildings, potentially yielding new dynamics attracting off-campus constituent groups and new revenue.

Where do you rank?

A facilities assessment not only identifies aspects unique to your university, it shows you how you rank compared to other similar institutions. This unique ranking system can help you understand where to invest precious capital improvement dollars to make the most impact with prospective students who are comparing schools.

Why do I need a professional?

Partnering with an architect for a facilities assessment of your campus provides benefits not found with an in-house assessment. An architect-led assessment can identify both problems and opportunities that might otherwise be missed, and provide customized priorities for your campus community that increase utilization. Architects who work with multiple higher education institutions can see trends and possibilities those with an insider perspective of your campus may not be aware of. Working closely with an architect to create a comprehensive facilities assessment allows you to combine your own in-depth knowledge of your campus with the fresh perspective of an outside influence.

As life on college campuses begins to return to a more normal state, the pandemic effects on how students and their families perceive the value of a college or university will linger. Doing everything you can to improve that perceived value within the budget constraints facing many higher learning institutions is now more important than ever. Understanding the state of your current facilities and the opportunities they offer for the future is an important factor in ramping up the perceived value of your institution.

Matt Keys, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP and Albert Ray, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, are client leaders leading the higher education market at Hollis + Miller Architects, an integrated architecture firm designing the future of learning environments. Share your thoughts on Facebook, LinkedIn or on Twitter @HollisandMiller.

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