Evolving Campus Part III: New Approach to Space Management

July 27, 2017


Even though it gets a lot of attention nowadays, the debate over free speech has been a mainstay of the college campus over the last several decades. But one thing that receives far less notice is a relatively new phenomenon. And that is the way in which students experience post-secondary education. The way students are learning and interacting on a college campus today has fundamentally changed, beginning with the facilities themselves. All of this has important implications for both administrators and facilities managers.

Demands to rethink the physical campus are driven by three key factors: 1) deferred maintenance; 2) new pedagogical styles; and 3) competitive pressures from students and employers. Let’s begin with the structural and financial aspects driving the change:

The Time to Address Deferred Maintenance is Now
While the majority of campus space was designed more than 15 years ago1, it’s hard to miss the fruits of the post-recession construction boom when driving past most college campuses. In the early 2000s, institutions projected enrollment increases fueled by millennials and the increasing rates of high school matriculation. Many postponed the renewal of older buildings, often in favor of new construction2. The result is a growing backlog of deferred maintenance.

It’s now common to see new, high-tech buildings surrounded by older ones in need of full-scale renovations.  One study conducted in 1996 estimated $26 billion in accumulated deferred maintenance, and this problem has only grown in the last two decades3.

Most of the campus buildings constructed after 2006 are now online4, but recent evidence shows leveling or declining enrollments due to slowing population growth5. The building boom of the early 00s for the millennial influx (which has since abated) is putting many administrators in the difficult position of having excess space for its enrollment, with much of it in need of maintenance or renovation. According to one extensive survey, nearly half (47 percent) of institutions will initiate major renovations (as opposed to new construction) in 20176.

New Pedagogy Dictates Different Space Needs on Campus
Today, learning happens everywhere on campus, not just in traditional classroom space. The competitive global economy is pressuring academics to deliver educational value and preparation for jobs that may not even exist today. Therefore instructors are focused on providing students with the tools, resources, and facilities to become entrepreneurial doers and thinkers. To fuel society’s “engines of growth,” universities need supporting infrastructure and technology, requiring a rethinking of campus design7.

Today, students are encouraged to be active participants in their learning, meaning there is far less emphasis on the formal lecture delivered at the front of an auditorium or classroom. The documented benefits of cross-disciplinary learning 8 9 10 11 for creativity and retention of new material have led many instructors to collaborate with other departments on campus more regularly.

It is now increasingly common to co-locate different disciplines within the same building for more effective learning and increased innovation. For instance, at Clemson University’s new Watt Family Innovation Center, more than 3,000 students are taking part in 60 different courses representing 39 different academic departments12.

Competition to Stay Ahead of the Curve
Just as pedagogy has shifted to encompass more collaborative approaches, employers are demanding new skills and mindsets from the college graduates they hire, such as agile thinking. In the drive to stay ahead of the curve as they compete for students, faculty, researchers, and dollars, academic institutions must go to great lengths to position themselves effectively with cutting-edge facilities and desirable amenities. For example, innovation centers and entrepreneurship facilities are being built on campuses to meet employers’ demands for flexible thinking in the knowledge economy.

Many campuses evoke a small city, featuring mixed-use developments (with retail, housing, multiple consumer services,) multi-purpose recreation centers that allow for additional programming beyond gym uses – such as special events, banquets, and sleep-ins – even start-up incubators13, and a host of new building forms that must be accommodated. In fact, whereas 100 years ago nearly three-quarters of campus space had a specific academic purpose, today the ratio is closer to 50-5014. Colleges and universities have become more residential and offer more campus services, like dining and recreation options, to make living on campuses more attractive to prospective students.

Many campuses are responding to changing demands from employers by creating more opportunity for collaboration and working to deliver job-ready graduates. A 2013 Gallup survey showed that only one-third of business executives agreed that college graduates are prepared for their jobs with the skills and competencies required. Yet a separate Gallup survey found that nearly all (96%) chief academic officers say that their institutions are effective at graduating students who are prepared for the workforce. Fortunately, Generation Z students today are especially motivated to develop innovation skills and pursue entrepreneurial projects—all of which are highly desired by employers15.

How Campus Space is Evolving
The impact of this pedagogical shift on the physical space has been significant, with an explosion of new kinds of learning spaces designed to foster transparency and collaboration. Rather than long corridors with rectangle-shaped classrooms on either side, today’s ultra-modern buildings feature multi-purpose, multi-modal spaces that suit all sizes of student groups. They are designed for maximum flexibility. 

Easily movable furnishings, mobile power sources, and configurable partitions and white boards enable instructors to accommodate classes and study groups of varying sizes. Collaborative learning environments can be found all over campus—in libraries, student unions, cafes, atriums, and more. Smaller, comfortable spaces with soft seating invite impromptu learning and discussion, such as those at Colorado State University. On the other hand, campuses are also designing cave-like spaces for independent study and reflection.

Technology not only  supports new and diverse learning styles and teaching techniques, but it also enables individuals on and off campus to participate in new ways. Lecture-capture technology has become essential, enabling instructors to devote class time to small group discussion, or even to invite the public to participate through MOOCs. Online learning and the need for always-on technology are driving new space challenges.

Given the emphasis on facilities maintenance and renovation (rather than new construction,) institutions today have the opportunity to ensure that all learning spaces on campus reflect modern pedagogy and stakeholder expectations.

The Importance of Space Utilization Data on Today’s Campus
The trends discussed above – urgency of maintenance or renovation needs, changing pedagogy, and competitive pressure to offer state-of-the-art facilities– all underscore the need for accurate and comprehensive data about facilities use on campus.

For one, the historical silos endemic to higher education are coming down as departments share more space and resources, putting an increased focus on information-sharing. Jointly owned space that accommodates a variety of learning exchanges at different times and by different groups of students requires a flexible, centralized scheduling platform that gives the right level of insight to administrators and users such as instructors, students, or staff.

And, as institutions address their deferred maintenance, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to prioritize these needs without accurate information about space utilization. In some instances, campus leaders have determined based on utilization statistics that the more financially feasible option is to take the building down, rather than bring the building up to date.

Additionally, with enrollment flat or declining, academic institutions are finding that their capital and operations budgets are tight. By improving space planning, policies, and space utilization, they can reduce these demands significantly . Today’s best meeting and room scheduling software (MRSS) is an important ally for administrators facing these decisions.

Campus-wide Visibility for Space Management
Consider a software platform that allows schedulers to have complete visibility into all reservable spaces on campus, regardless of size, location, ownership, technical components, or amount of “formal” teaching that occurs in it. A platform that enables students to reserve a study spot in advance or ad hoc. One that can alert administrators when space needs exceed capacity, or when underutilized or older space can be taken offline.

Institutions such as New York University (NYU,) Yale, Colorado State University, and many others have discovered ways to harness this evolving concept of space with the industry-leading MRSS from EMS Software. EMS gives event planners, registrars, and schedulers a single solution for managing and optimizing all space on campus, as well as the ability to assign the necessary resources (such as lecture-capture technology, furniture, A/V) to the space.

Campuses running EMS know that when the bell rings or an event commences, the space will be set up exactly as it should be. Whether the space is a traditional lecture hall, newly configured classroom, recreation center or casual small-group area, administrators have visibility into how, when and by whom that space is being used.

EMS makes this process simple and user-friendly through a variety of access points, including a desktop client for registrars and other frequent users, a Web App, Mobile App, Room Signs, and Kiosks featuring touchscreen technology, and Master Calendar for end users to reserve and access space. Comprehensive and customizable utilization reports, as well as automatic notifications, are hallmarks of the EMS system.

Create Revenue from Your Room Scheduling Software
Many leading universities are taking their “newfound” space identified in EMS and turning it to good purpose: incremental revenue. At NYU for instance, the administration posted an increase in room utilization from 61% to 77% over the ten-year period prior to 2016. During the same period, the university realized a 63% increase in space bookings by campus and community organizations, all with only one new building in the mix (which was chiefly office and classroom space, hence not very rentable.) By paying close attention to space utilization reports in EMS, the university could increase its bookings and therefore its revenue—which it successfully doubled.

Minneapolis Community College (MCC,) a 13,000-student campus in the city’s downtown, also experienced a doubling of revenue when it implemented EMS. By organizing their work environment in a highly detailed manner in the EMS platform, both MCC and NYU can track every event, space, and resource to gain an accurate picture of what’s going on in each building. From their EMS dashboard, the campus events team created templates, customer types, and event types, as well as automatic notifications and reminders, to maximize space utilization (and create revenue) without investing capital in new facilities.

When addressing deferred maintenance and major renovations that are part of the college or university campus evolution, an important consideration for academic leaders should be how to manage and plan for the increased variety of learning spaces on campus. This process can be made simple with EMS Software.

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

1Sightlines, "State of Facilities in Higher Education," 2016
3National Association of College and University Business Officers, "A Foundation to Uphold: A Study of Facilities Conditions at U.S. College and Universities," 1996
4Planning for Higher Education Journal, "Designing Innovative Campuses for Tomorrow’s Students," July–September 2016
5Sightlines, "The State of Facilities in Higher Education," 2016 report
6College Planning & Management, "Facilities & Construction Brief," 2017
7Planning for Higher Education Journal, "Designing Innovative Campuses for Tomorrow’s Students," July–September 2016
8University of North Carolina Asheville, "The Impact on Learning through Integrative Cross-Course Projects Across Disciplines," February 2017
9Social Science Journal, Wayne State University, "Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity: The case for interdisciplinary knowledge and research," 2002
10ESSAI: Vol. 7, "Interdisciplinary Approach - Advantages, Disadvantages, and the Future Benefits of Interdisciplinary Studies," 2009
11Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, "The Impact of Integrated Student Experiences on Learning," 2014
12Planning for Higher Education Journal, "Designing Innovative Campuses for Tomorrow’s Students," July–September 2016
14Sightlines, "The State of Facilities in Higher Education," 2016 Report
15Planning for Higher Education Journal, "Designing Innovative Campuses for Tomorrow’s Students," July–September 2016
16Sightlines, "Find the Hidden Space on Your High-Density Campus," 2015