Four Mistakes Universities Make When Expanding Their Campus

Certain colleges and universities across the country are making plans in 2014 to expand their campus footprint and acquire more real estate. The question is, how do they carefully manage the potential challenges and risks, and implement a successful and efficient plan?

It's a topic that I know very well: Large and small colleges – both for-profit and nonprofit – regularly ask for advice on how to enhance and expand their existing campus.

It's also a topic in considerable flux. These days, with the increased globalization of higher education and the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs), it's important that colleges and universities adopt new paradigms and best practices for managing their campus footprint.

In general, I've found that if colleges and universities can avoid these four mistakes, they will be much better positioned with their overall campus expansion and real estate goals.

MISTAKE #1: Not Considering Who Your Target Students Are

Students are your clients. Where they come from and what their cultural needs may be are important for a school to consider.

These days, a college in Iowa may be competing for students in China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, in addition to students from all parts of the U.S. If your institution has goals to target students with such a wide range of backgrounds for enrollment, your facilities must be designed to appeal to the different needs of the students you are now trying to attract, while still allowing the culture and ethos of the institution shine through.

MISTAKE #2: Not Rethinking Your Faculty Office Space

Faculty members no longer need their own private offices. People are in their offices less and less, so providing each professor his or her own office is frequently a waste of space.

In corporate America, many companies are ditching the office completely. Those keeping them have embraced a smaller, one-size standard office, often the same size as their small conference rooms, providing for more flexibility and allowing them to use space more efficiently and with varying purposes. There is no reason why colleges and universities cannot do this, too.

"Hoteling," a concept those in the accounting and consulting industries are long familiar with, is also starting to be embraced by forward-thinking colleges and universities. Because many offices sit vacant during the day, hoteling allows for multiple people to share the same office or workspace on different schedules. Hoteling has become even more "adaptable" in recent years because of mobile tools, cloud technology, and the latest trends in co-working.

I appreciate this is a big cultural shift for many institutions, but is worth pursuing — even if you migrate to this solution over a longer period of time — as real estate costs will continue to escalate.

MISTAKE #3: Not Being Flexible for the Future

With online classes becoming more prolific, classroom space needs to be rethought. The old classroom configuration is becoming less and less applicable to the needs of students today. The same holds true for the traditional large libraries many institutions have — students are researching online, not in the stacks. And now, more than ever before, colleges and universities need spaces to collaborate within and outside of the classroom.

Many colleges and universities own the real estate they occupy and if they don't, they sign long-term — 15 or 20 year — leases. Given significant capital goes into constructing these assets, really thinking about the space's adaptability and flexibility for future growth is important.

MISTAKE #4: Failing to Consider School-Life Amenities

As previously noted, your students are your clients, and they have more and more options to consider when it comes to higher education. As such, your school needs to stand out.

Classes can now be taken at any time, and students are expecting amenities on a 24/7 basis to support this. Security is a huge issue — especially on urban campuses — and students need to see that the college takes student safety as a high priority.

While strong academics are always an important consideration, academic needs are not the only issue schools must address. Where students live and how they live, along with the amenities the area provides, quickly become a major advantage or a disadvantage for the school.

One final point: I always recommend finding an experienced real estate broker to help guide you through the process. Just like in the classroom, when it comes to real estate decisions, a great teacher can make a tremendous difference.

Howard Ecker is president and CEO of Howard Ecker + Company, a commercial tenant representation company (www.howardecker.com). He can be reached at 888/851-0340.

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