What Are Current Trends In Higher Education Facilities?

A recent survey of facility planners by builder Mortenson finds nearly half believe there will be more construction activity on their campus over the next three years, compared to the past three.

Communal gathering and co-working spaces are becoming popular among younger generations. Across U.S. college campuses, growing student demand for common and collaborative areas is a key driver to the design, construction, and renovation of campus facilities, according to a recent follow-up survey of higher education planners and administrators. The poll, “The Evolution of Higher Education and the Impact on U.S. Campuses,” was conducted by Mortenson, a leading U.S.-based builder, developer, and engineering services provider serving the commercial, institutional, and energy sectors.

Students’ habits around studying and socializing are changing, and that’s causing administrators to rethink the impact facilities have on student engagement and learning.

The initial Mortenson survey was conducted in 2012. At that time, 80% of respondents thought the design and quality of campus facilities have a substantial or moderate impact on student engagement in learning: a figure that jumped to 94% in the latest survey. Similarly, while 73% of 2012 respondents believed facilities impact the quality of instruction, that number increased to 95% this year.

“The reality is higher education professionals are being asked to meet the needs of their students with less funding,” said Mike Pedersen, market director at Mortenson. “Collaborative areas where students can engage one another and share ideas is appealing to potential students and is leading to more successful student academic outcomes. Administrators see these types of facilities as a great recruiting and student engagement tool, providing more for less.”

Additional findings from the survey:

Hangout Shift: From Dorm Rooms to Student Unions
No longer are students judging their college choices on the dorms. The survey found that 42% of administrators believe common spaces, such as a student union, have the greatest impact on attracting quality students, compared to 26% for student housing. With 89% of respondents believing facilities have a substantial impact on recruiting new students, a college facilities arms-race might be mounting with greater focus on student unions, learning centers, and informal “soft study” areas.

Online Learning Has Been Underestimated
The survey found respondents have overwhelmingly shifted their belief that online education will materially impact the nature and number of higher education institutions in the U.S. In 2012, 33% believed online education will have an impact on higher education, that figure rose to 74% this year indicating that higher education professionals underestimated the extent online learning would transform education. This has led to administrators placing a higher priority on developing the classroom of the future and ensuring facilities can endure the growth of online learning.

Remodeling Taking a Prominent Role
Even with a greater emphasis on online learning, investments will still be made in the physical campus. Almost half of respondents believe there will be more construction activity on their campus compared to the past three years. However, 47% believe, to a great degree, that activity has shifted from new construction to remodeling and renovation. A likely reason is that the top challenge facing higher education professionals today is managing fiscal realities and doing more with less (42% of respondents).

Mortenson surveyed 100 higher education planners, administrators, and architects. The 2012 survey was conducted under similar circumstances to record changes over time. The survey report is available for download on the Mortenson website.

If you work in higher education facilities, what trends are you seeing in construction and renovation? Are campus facilities increasing the focus on common areas and collaborative spaces ? Please share your experiences in the Comments section below.