Evolving Campus Part I: Financial Pressures Force Top Schools to Rethink their Space

April 18, 2017


At EMS Live! 2016, Katherine Gates, Senior Director of Planning and Administrative Initiatives at Harvard University, explained: "There is a lot more to space scheduling than you might think. Space—especially in a university—is political, personal, and emotional."

Nationwide, colleges and universities are struggling to keep student tuition affordable while managing the realities of cost increases and maintenance needs for aging facilities. In the wake of the global financial crisis and severe reductions in state funding for public universities, this struggle has become all the more difficult.

Between 2008 and 2014, for example, states cut per-student spending on higher education by an average of 21 percent, and only two (Alaska and North Dakota) are spending at pre-Recession levels1. Overall enrollment growth since 2011 has slowed, thus enrollment increases cannot be relied upon to close the gap between needs and funding2.

But raising tuition is also not the cure. According to Bain & Co.’s 2012 comprehensive report, "The Financially Sustainable University" (updated in 2014), a full third of America’s higher education institutions are spending more than they can afford to—despite increases in tuition, which Bain researchers predict to be 6.5 times the consumer price index by the year 2030, up from 3.2 times in 2012.

Amidst all these challenges lies one tremendous opportunity, however, and it is the most valuable asset for any institution, aside from its people: its real estate.

Applying New Insights and Approaches to Higher Ed Space
American colleges and universities have accumulated an estimated $250 billion in collective real estate assets3. By making improvements in how they manage this asset, administrators have an opportunity to narrow the gap between spending and funding levels.

While cost-cutting certainly plays an important role in a campus strategy to deal with reductions in funding and the leveling off in enrollment growth, higher education institutions must also evolve their strategies and policies4 to uncover hidden value from their existing assets.

This type of approach requires a greater level of insight than has been available, until recently. Forward-thinking institutions around the country are now relying on software that collects data on the use of campus space. Having a clear picture of the actual utilization rates of various properties on campus enables administrators to make the right decisions about that space from a real estate and financial perspective, such as whether and when to pursue new construction, or the renovation or repair of existing buildings.

One prominent medical school, for instance, received many complaints from staff unable to access the spaces they needed. The anecdotal reports of high use led the administration to consider adding new facilities. However, once data were gathered and automated reports were generated, the institution discovered that utilization was actually at just 30 percent, which by no means warranted a new building. Instead, they created a plan to advertise and increase the use of existing facilities.

"We have tripled our level of reservations without increasing our staffing."
- LaNae Poulter, University Scheduling Manager, BYU Idaho

Financial Gains for Campuses that Adopt Room Scheduling Software
Taking utilization one step further, many institutions are using this newfound insight to create revenue opportunities from existing assets. For instance:

  • Some universities are leasing unused campus space to community groups and businesses.
  • Others are finding ways to monetize non-core assets such as parking spaces and lockers on campus.
  • Some universities have even integrated their campus scheduling software to the building HVAC systems in order to sync the delivery of heating and cooling to occupancy, resulting in significant reductions in energy costs.

In all these cases, colleges and universities are relying on systematic data collection to help reduce financial pressures.

The growing adoption of room scheduling software enables many of these benefits, helping academic institutions across the U.S. become savvier about managing their space. As a result, they’re able to make smarter decisions, increase utilization, and even generate revenue—all of which add up to a campus that is well-positioned to deliver on its mission for years to come.

"We had always been disjointed in tracking information differently by department […] So when I was asked as the facilities manager to report on space utilization across the entire campus, I had to run to several different people in an attempt to get the information. We had no clear view of what was happening on campus […] so we couldn’t improve space utilization. But that changed as soon as we implemented EMS. Now, we have full transparency across campus. We can see which spaces are being underutilized and then fill them with revenue-generating events, such as corporate events and even weddings."
- Bradley Bower, head of events at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar

In addition to Georgetown and Harvard, hundreds of the nation’s most respected academic institutions rely on EMS Software to manage, report on, and capitalize on their real estate because EMS makes it easy to schedule and manage any type of space or resource.

84% of EMS customers reported that they achieved positive return-on-investment within just 12 months.

For a complimentary needs assessment for your campus, contact EMS Software today.

1Lauren Camera, "States Are Slacking on Higher Ed Spending," U.S. News & World Report, January 7, 2016.
2Sightlines, "State of Facilities in Higher Education," 2014
3Jeff Denneen and Tom Dretler, "The financially sustainable university," Bain & Company, July 6, 2012.
4Gartner, "Top 10 Business Trends Impacting Higher Education," January 2016