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Does campus beauty matter?

Some institutions demonstrate the correlation between campus aesthetics and academic reputation
University Business, July 2015
Facilities such as Davidson Math and Science Center, a recent additions to the University of Nevada, Reno campus, are built to detailed architectural design standards established by university officials.
Facilities such as Davidson Math and Science Center, a recent additions to the University of Nevada, Reno campus, are built to detailed architectural design standards established by university officials.

Being recognized as a “beautiful campus” goes beyond just having curb appeal. In fact, institutions that are consistently chosen for so-called “most beautiful college campuses” rankings put a lot of resources and effort into demonstrating a correlation between campus aesthetics and academic reputation. For many, that commitment is paying off.

The allure of an attractive campus

President Marc Johnson of the University of Nevada, Reno doesn’t hesitate to say the campus itself is the school’s most effective recruiting tool.

“The best way we have for recruiting students is to give them a plane ticket and get them on campus,” he says. “I literally hear people say, ‘The moment I stepped foot on campus, I knew I belonged here.’ The architecture and the way we put the campus together has had a great impact, and we intentionally build student success into the design of these buildings.”

Likewise, Sewanee: The University of the South—which Travel & Leisure ranked No.11 in its “America’s Most Beautiful Campuses” coverage—has made a conscious effort to encourage visits to its Tennessee campus; visits have increased by 10 percent each of the last several years. “Sewanee is on 13,000 acres that are used for enjoyment, learning, recreation and research. We’re lucky to have usable space that is also a sacred space to us,” says Lisa Burns, associate dean of admission for recruitment.

Burns partially credits the campus with being able to attract such a wide variety of students. “Families don’t just blow in, do a tour and leave,” says Burns. They may take a nature hike, go look at the theater center, or hang out by one of the campus’ overlooks. “After seeing the whole domain, there’s greater buy-in to the types of experiences they will have when they get here,” she says.

Pride and reputation

At Colgate University in New York—The Princeton Review’s No. 1 “most beautiful campus” pick for 2014—the setting gives current students as well as alumni something to cherish, says Karen Long, senior associate dean of admission.

“It’s a beautiful quad to walk across, and it’s by design. No one is running out of class to jump into their cars. They stay to discuss ideas in a setting that’s conducive to that,” she says. “It’s not a coincidence that the best liberal arts universities in the country are in small towns, and that they are beautiful and inspiring locations.”

That inspiration is instrumental in keeping alumni connected to the university in terms of fundraising, as well as offering their networking and guidance to current students, Long says.

At Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts, another school widely regarded for its beautiful campus, traditions such as convocation in the outdoor amphitheater and ascending the college’s namesake on Mountain Day in the fall are largely tied to the physical campus and its scenic surroundings, says Julia Ferrante, director of news.

“The living learning spaces evoke a feeling of pride and belonging, and that feeling contributes to students treasuring their time here and to the affinity alumnae take with them after graduation.”

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