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How Data-Driven Facility Management Affects Higher Education Enrollment

Mariah Obiedzinski

Mariah Obiedzinski

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From creating a pleasant first impression for parents and students to offering a comfortable environment conducive to learning, more higher education organizations are investing in how data-driven facility management can impact enrollment.

Similar to healthcare, hospitality and other service industries, higher education organizations cannot rely on a consistent demand year over year. Within the next decade, the demographic of students pursuing higher education degrees will shrink; thus, the impetus for organizations to make research-driven facilities management decisions will become all the more important.

Colleges and universities will need to shuffle their budgets and resources to prioritize buildings and campus amenities that support revenue-generating undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

This review and realignment of funds must be done regularly in order to stay on top of the most recent market and revenue demands and attract more students. As such, facility departments should be empowered to suggest improvements that are supported by the institution’s research.

For example, if market research suggests that science programs will drive more revenue in 2019/2020 than arts programs, the school should prioritize updates to the science buildings, labs and grounds.

While this is not a new concept, it has rarely been discussed publicly until recently due to politics involved with deprioritizing programs. In Jan. 2019, an article in The New York Times and a talk at the Council of Independent Colleges conference both discussed prioritizing majors with a focus on capital investments, staff salaries and student-to-staff ratios.

Research-driven Data for Student Recruitment

In an effort to address the prioritization challenge, the education focused architectural firm Hastings+Chivetta collaborates with higher education institutions and private K-12 schools to implement a facilities-meets-enrollment assessment – the Architecture of Enrollment Management™ program.

The program focuses on recommendations to improve first impressions, campus investments and ultimately student recruitment and retention.

The student campus tour is among the most important first impressions. Erik Kocher, principal at Hastings+Chivetta, says, “While conducting assessments, we’ve heard kids whisper to their parents during the tour, ‘There’s no way I’m going here.’ Aesthetic and infrastructure deficiencies can negatively affect the tour experience but can easily go unnoticed by campus staff.”

Hastings+Chivetta “secret shops” campus admission tours as part of their program, homing in on under-the-radar facilities considerations, such as:

  • Does the tour take prospective students through older facilities for the sake of the tour or can some buildings be skipped all together?
  • Is there clearly marketed visitor parking adjacent to the admission office?
  • Do any featured buildings on the tour need lawncare, paint or custodial attention?
  • Does the campus map match the current campus layout?
  • Does the tour visit the best example of student housing or the worst?

The assessment ranks organizations on a 125-point scale. High-scoring colleges and universities typically score around 99 points. However, Hastings+Chivetta has worked with big-name institutions that ranked in the 50s.

The firm shares anonymous institutional data from previous campus tours to show stakeholders how they rank compared to their peer organizations – these reports are always eye-opening for administrators.

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The data help college and university administration and facility managers prioritize programs and related campus amenities for maintenance and marketing efforts.

For example, if biology is expected to generate a large return on investment but the science center is outdated, it will be difficult to attract the best and brightest students through marketing campaigns or campus tours, regardless of the quality of the faculty and staff and course offerings.

Cost-Effective Facility Maintenance Plans

Higher education facility managers are continually challenged to do more with less in terms of staff and funding. However, as funds are diverted into new building projects, maintenance must become a priority.

Hastings+Chivetta offers tiers of recommendations for facility managers based on staffing capacity, budget and organizational priorities to enhance student recruitment:

  • Low cost: This tier includes increased custodial attention, paint and carpeting updates and simple landscaping projects to spruce up key building interiors and exteriors.
  • Intermediate cost: These initiatives support the revenue- and acquisition-driving elements to be showcased on a campus tour or in a marketing campaign. Updates might include installing new lab equipment or implementing large interior design or landscaping projects.
  • Priority cost: This tier includes master planning projects, such as new building construction, large-scale renovations and overhauling campus-wide landscaping. Such endeavors might require additional staffing, grants or other planned and immediate-cost initiatives to stay relevant among competitor institutions.

The campus tour is the first real-life impression students get of a higher education organization and the first authentic interaction with institution staff and facilities. Unfortunately, it’s also an opportunity to turn off students with poorly maintained facilities.

To stay relevant in today’s narrowing and increasingly competitive higher education market, institutions should consider implementing immediate and long-term data-driven facilities projects.

The investment in understanding the return on certain programs vs. the expenditures on campus projects could make or break the enrollment rates for the institution for the next decade.

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