By Craig Cassell, Executive Managing Director, Education Sector
Higher education institutions are facing increased competition for students while experiencing lowering enrollment, increased tuition, and reduced public funding. Within that climate, high-profile universities are focused on attracting the most talented professors and students. Creating an appealing environment for students today is a major challenge as changing technology, lifestyles, and business environments impact what students are looking for in college.
Additionally, the breadth of the university’s mission is broadening and the makeup of its students is becoming more diverse. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the non-white student population for all U.S. post-secondary institutions increased from 29.2% in 2000 to 42.4% in 2015. During that same time, the number of non-U.S. residents attending these schools has increased by 86%.
There is pressure to find cost savings, as government funding has been declining, but also a need to keep up with student demands and expectations for how a 21st-century education should look and feel. The competition for outstanding students in higher education mirrors the war for talent in the business world. Corporations are increasingly focused on their employees’ physical spaces in order to attract and retain young talent, while increasing productivity and collaboration. And, just as companies are investing in workplace design to create a ‘wow’ factor that differentiates them to the labor market, higher education institutions are also focusing on facilities, culture, technology, and land use strategies as critical components in meeting growth and success goals.
Six University Trends We’re Seeing
1.) Connection to Something Bigger
Universities can often feel like their own little cities, whether they are in a small town or part of a Gateway city. However, there are a myriad of benefits linking the daily life of a college with its surrounding community. This connection offers opportunities for students to connect with the business and cultural communities outside the university walls, and provides resources for partnership between corporations, students, faculty, and civic institutions. And, it helps connect students’ ongoing learning with real-life application.
It may have been at one point that the main benefit of post-secondary education was to spend time learning from professors who lectured on their areas of expertise. However, now learning is more active and collaborative, which means that professors are less founts of knowledge and more mentors, subject matter experts, and facilitators. In addition to rubbing elbows with professors, the value of an education is increasingly found in the connections that are made with:
- Other students from diverse backgrounds
- Industry experts and current professionals
- Business incubators
- Extracurricular activities and groups
3.) Report-Style Amenities
Universities spend millions of dollars on student “consumption” amenities like rock-climbing walls and lazy rivers. New residence halls often have infinity pools, putting greens,
fitness centers, gaming rooms, fire pits, grills, and saunas. One private dorm in London offers a cinema room and concierge. These features can significantly add to the cost of a college education, but studies indicate that such features help to attract students regardless of the added cost. The desire for new and better is not limited to residence
halls. Universities are also spending billions of dollars on upgrading classrooms, libraries, computer labs, and athletic facilities.
4.) State of the Art Technology
Students entering college these days were born in the 2000s, and they have never known a world without mobile phones, public WiFi, and flat screen televisions. In fact, they may not even remember a world without smart phones and internet-connected home appliances. Their expectations are that the technology offered on and around campus will be seamless and streamlined. Beyond just the staples of WiFi and cell service, today’s students expect
video conferencing tools and modern A/V options around campus. Schools have to fight to keep up with technology amenities, and are also essentially mini-tech companies with responsibility for data security and growing provision of education services via online formats.
Students are concerned about the environment, and so universities are as well. Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) reports that at least 330 U.S. institutions feature solar power that collectively generate about 250,000 kilowatts. In addition, colleges increasingly look to adaptive reuse of older buildings rather than taking the un-ecological approach of demolition and replacement. As noted by the World Economic Forum, consumers (and students alike) around the globe are increasingly concerned with a broad range of issues that impact their decisions: impact on environment, carbon footprint, labor standards, animal welfare, and school’s ethical trade track record.
6.) International Partnerships
Prestigious universities have been operating overseas campuses for many years, but as
this trend expanded, some institutions found it difficult to navigate the logistical, political,
and cost challenges involved in planting their flags on foreign soil. In recent years, the trend has been toward partnerships with existing universities as a way to attract students in those countries. The trend is also becoming multi-directional. For instance, Tsinghua University of Beijing – known as the “MIT of China”– has worked with the University of Washington in the U.S. to start a graduate institute near Seattle that can accommodate up to 3,000 students.
Craig Cassell serves as the Global Leader for the Cushman & Wakefield Education Practice Group, a full service, integrated advisory team focused on real estate solutions for the education sector.