Student-Focused Centers Receive Recruitment Gold Star

Recruiting the best and the brightest has become increasingly more competitive in recessionary times, with many of these applicants foregoing their top choice schools in favor of more affordable options. Further, the talent pool is larger and more diverse than ever, particularly as people who have been handed pink slips return to the classroom in search of higher education opportunities. And with tuition costs now overriding factors that formerly took precedence in the decision-making process, including academic programs, athletic team opportunities, rankings, and name recognition, it is essential for college administrators to display the greatest and most attractive attributes of their institution at all times, otherwise known as their “recruitment gold.”

The college tour is a crucial component of this process, offering students the opportunity to take in the atmosphere, services, and culture of the campus simply from the architecture of buildings, attention to landscape and green space, modern amenities, technological capabilities, color schemes, design, and art. Increasingly, contemporary, cutting-edge facilities such as state-of-the-art student centers are proving to be a decisive factor. 

Creating a Student-Savvy Environment
Current trends evident in campus cultures indicate that in addition to requiring modern technology and up-to-date resources for their academic work, students also need food choices, friends, fun things to do, and fun places to do them in to create a favorable social and educational experience. A student center can incorporate all the valued elements — lounges, game rooms, food venues, meeting spaces, facilities for recreation and fitness, pools, etc. — into a single, accessible facility, making it an ideal “see and be seen” solution for incoming students. As a hybrid facility combining the elements of both a recreation center and student union, a student center is the best solution for a student-focused facility for small and mid-sized schools.

Furthermore, providing spacious areas that boast modern and chic amenities and equipment create a campus beacon and social hub for co- and extra-curricular activities. Easily accessible space for group and organizational meetings, study sessions, and interaction with fellow students generates a sense of community — enhancing the holistic development of students while combining first-rate learning with positive social networks.

Ohio Dominican University and Winston-Salem State University are two prime examples of institutions taking action on this knowledge. The former just completed its new student center, which serves as a gateway facility on campus, offering gathering and recreational spaces, meeting and office spaces for student clubs and organizations, bookstore, study spaces, student services, dining services, reflection space, and multipurpose spaces for special events — all under one roof. Similarly, Winston-Salem State is developing a new three-story activity center that will incorporate active and passive recreation spaces, including a fitness area, two-court gymnasium, and running track with a new food court and student government offices, facility administration, and lounges for commuters. Aiming to be a one-stop shop for students, the center will also offer a beauty salon, barbershop, and campus ballroom.

Planning for Profitability and Student Satisfaction 
Understanding the individuals who will utilize the facility is key to creating a student center that is “recruitment gold.” To save time and resources, as well as make certain that the facility will best meet the needs of the campus community, special considerations need to be factored into the design process, including funding sources, facility staffing, size and location (specifically with regard to space), ease of access, and how centrally the facility is located on the campus.

A feasibility study addresses all of these planning aspects and should be conducted to determine whether an existing, renovated, expanded, or new facility is required to meet programmatic and other needs of the institution and its students. This insight can be obtained from surveys with students, faculty, and administration, and collaborative meetings with designers and end-users. Combining the results of these tactics with the insight of industry-savvy experts into a cohesive document should provide a solid understanding of where to start —  helping to ensure the successful design, completion, and usage of a high-quality and service-oriented student facility that aligns with the institution’s long term goals and capabilities.

While recruiting and retaining quality students may be more challenging than ever, colleges can take steps during the decision process to show students that their school is the most worthy investment. By providing an innovative, chic, and community-building environment, school administrators and facility managers can place their college or university a cut above the rest.

Curtis J. Moody is president and founder of Moody•Nolan, Inc., an architecture, interior design, and civil engineering firm specializing in healthcare, higher education, sports/recreation, and public service facilities. Headquartered in Columbus, OH, Moody•Nolan is the largest African-American owned and operated architecture and engineering firm in the nation. For more information, visit www.moodynolan.com.

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