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Room With A View

Student demands are impacting university facility development.
University Business, Jun 2006

At a recent conference, David Kirp, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, coined the term "amenities arms race" to describe the growing competition between institutions to recruit students by building quality-of-life facilities not related to direct classroom instruction. (See footnote (1) at the end of this article.) Providing these kinds of facilities in the face of shrinking state government support has re-ordered what colleges and universities are prioritizing in their capital expenditure plans, and how they are realizing such facilities by sourcing previously uncultivated revenue streams and/or teaming with private-sector partners.

According to Claire Raines (2) , kids born between 1980 and 2000, dubbed the "Millennial Generation," are the busiest generation in the history of the United States. Their "parents and teachers micromanaged their schedules, leaving very little unstructured free time." As the first generation to grow up "surrounded by digital media," they are highly connected, confident, civic-minded, and culturally and ethnically tolerant. They have high expectations, fueled by "active, involved parents who often interceded on their behalf."

On many campuses such parents are labeled "helicopter parents." Double-incomed, generally older, and more mature than parents of previous generations, they typically afford their kids a high standard of living, with private bedrooms and baths, state-of-the-art digital electronics, fashionable clothes, and nice cars. When their kids go off to college, helicopter parents hover over college administrators to ensure their kids are provided with the best of everything--from courses and technology to living space and even roommates. As a result, Millennials are savvy and demanding customers with high expectations for both meaningful education and overall quality of life.

In response to widespread reduction in state government support of both capital and operating costs, institutions have been forced to resort to program eliminations and layoffs, tuition increases (often limited by state legislation), user fees, enrollment caps, shrinking financial aid to low-income students, and deferred facility maintenance. This has led to increased marketization of the institution--licensing, online and distance education, technology transfer (i.e. business incubation and other commercial enterprises), and foreign market expansion. The need to diversify capital funding sources has lead to developer financing, strategic alumni development, and corporate partnerships (including naming rights).

RESEARCH. Basic and applied research has long been a vehicle for attracting highly sought-after graduate students and faculty; it has increasingly become an attractive revenue generator. These facilities often bring together a number of disciplines across departmental lines to hopefully lead to new avenues of research and increased grant revenue.

Many institutions have healthcare-related research programs, providing low cost or free diagnostic or therapy services to their community in return for project participation.

FOOD SERVICE. The days of one-choice "mystery meat" meals have been replaced by an array of food delivery services. Food courts with a variety of vendors and menu choices supplement, or replace, standard dining hall fare. Convenience stores and marketplaces located throughout campus provide additional options, particularly where student residences are equipped with kitchen facilities.

RECREATIONAL. Colleges and universities program and design recreational facilities with their community in mind. Facilities are programmed for the use of everyone from infants to seniors.

LIBRARY. In addition to their traditional academic functions, libraries now reach out to a wider constituency, serving the local workforce as business information centers and the neighborhood community libraries.

ASSEMBLY. These facilities are being programmed to handle multiple functions beyond intercollegiate basketball games, including a broad array of revenue-producing community uses such as park district games, coaching clinics, concerts, speakers, movies, and business functions. Because they are shared with their communities and produce revenue, these kinds of facilities are increasingly developed in public/private partnership with city or county governments, or with for-profit developers.

Such facilities are usually sited in high-visibility locations with plenty of adjacent parking, a variety of seating configurations, food services, luxury suites, and flexible AV systems.

PERFORMING ARTS. Students are no longer content with physical activity as the center of their leisure pursuits; the performing arts have become increasingly popular to college students exposed at early ages to theater, music, dance and art. This type of facility is also a revenue generator, and offers the potential for community partnering both in joint construction financing and patron support for a variety of performance events. Highly visible and accessible performing arts facilities are able to effectively market their programs to the community and encourage community patronage.

RESIDENTIAL. Contemporary student residences look more like apartments than dorms, with private bedrooms and bathrooms, in unit laundries, outdoor decks, cable TV and wireless connections. They often have a variety of shared amenities not found in traditional residence halls, such as fireplaces, community kitchens, game rooms and fitness centers, and multi-media classrooms.

The quality-of-life issues embraced by contemporary students generally focus on personal wellness, balanced with interest in environmental protection. Simultaneously, state funding has not kept pace with facility operating costs. In response, more and more institutions have turned to the multiple benefits of sustainability-based planning for both conscientious and economic reasons.

Sites planned with sustainability in mind prioritize the pedestrian over the car. Features include a grid of narrow, curved streets planned to provide multiple traffic options at safe speed, and to protect natural drainage routes; compact development preserving open space; and use of natural stormwater systems and indigenous plants.

Buildings designed with sustainability in mind are planned to minimize energy and water use; utilize low-VOC, renewable and/or recyclable materials; and provide healthy daylighting and ventilation systems.

Buildings created for the research of sustainable design features are also a recent trend.

In a word, it's all about competition. Competition for talented faculty, students, and staff. Competition for shrinking resources. Competition from each other, including institutions in other countries.

Institutions that are most successfully positioning themselves for success are pursuing these objectives:

Staying focused

Getting out of the box

Plotting a course of action

Working it to fruition

1 "The New Balancing Act in the Business of Higher Education", David Kirp; sponsored by The TIAA-CREF Institute, November 3-4, 2005 in New York City.

2 "Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook"; Claire Raines, 2002.


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