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5 Higher Ed Campus Space Planning Trends to Watch

At University of Nebraska, at William & Mary, at University of Tennessee, Knoxville – at just about any modern college campus – annual Space Planning reports require making predictions about how much new space needs to be allocated – or not – and where. In 2023, though, campus planning decisions are harder than ever.

Reliable and relevant data will be key to those decisions, according to Higher Ed leaders like Mark Fournier, VP of Real Estate and Auxiliary Services at Georgetown University, addressing his peers in a Lambent-sponsored thought leadership discussion on Higher Ed challenges.

Based on my own customer and partner discussions in recent months, here’s 5 trends we can expect in Higher Ed real estate in the coming year:


1. Demand for flexible, collaborative space rises


While traditional classrooms remain important in higher education, many schools are also increasing their use of online, virtual and hybrid components to enhance the learning environment and accommodate new student populations. Space planners will need a comprehensive view of campus utilization to manage these spaces and provide the necessary resources to meet these new and evolving requirements.

It’s more than learning they have to worry about. College campuses include a lot of spaces for employees and administrative staff too. These spaces are impacted by the same trends that impact the working world outside the campus, e.g., remote work, more flexible schedules, new uses of space. This will shift the emphasis from defined spaces such as offices, desks and cubicles to more (quantity and quality) flexible, collaborative spaces with couches, tables, white boards. Many of our customers are looking to understand Student Union utilization patterns, for example, to improve efficiency and experience of these dynamic central hubs of activity.


2. Campus space hoarding becomes a big target


Space hoarding is legendary in Higher Ed. And for good reason. There are egos, there are legacies, and there’s love for particular spaces and the memories in them. But these things rarely align with the optimal use of campus and learning spaces. Consider the positive CapEx budget impact of having three part-time faculty members (whose schedules rarely overlap) share an office space. As schools struggle with how to maximize the use of available space and challenge the status quo to meet new requirements, they will need hard data to show who really needs the space – and who doesn’t.


3. The broad use of sensors for space planning comes into question


Both businesses and schools invested in sensors to help them understand their spaces better by counting people in those spaces. Then came the reality that hardware installation and maintenance slowed the road to actionable insights. Not to mention the unpopularity with students of the idea of being monitored. At one university, a group of students went so far as to physically remove the sensors from a lab ceiling.

Sensors as a utilization planning strategy may have been mis-directed as Space Planners find themselves overwhelmed by disparate, point-in-time data outputs that can’t be easily combined to inform an overarching plan. There is certainly a place for sensors, but only as a piece of a broader space planning strategy. Look for fewer, more carefully considered sensor purchases by schools in 2023.


4. Higher ed takes a leadership role in sustainability


Expect schools to prioritize Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in a way that makes their footprint – energy, heating, cooling, accessibility, popularity – better understood in terms of its environmental footprint.  With competition for students and dollars increasing, it’s important to note that 74% of prospective students said they would consider environmental impact when deciding where to attend.

Universities and college campuses have a huge influence on the cities and towns around them. – and they have an opportunity to lead the way in SDG by defining best practices for their broader communities and ecosystems. The key will be identifying and reporting on the right metrics to measure progress. They’ll need hard data to highlight the difference they are making. 


5. Esports space investments soar


In March, when Butler University in Indiana, will show off its new Esports Park during the BIG EAST Esports Conference Championships, there may be a lot of other higher education leaders wondering how to make this model work for their schools. Organizations like Educause have been touting the promise of Esports and the potential ROI in student recruitment, retention and community engagement for the last few years. Now, that potential is being realized by big brand name schools like Butler, University of Arizona and Illinois State. 

The nature of these facilities will vary widely depending on the school, the setting and each institution’s goals, but there are replicable models being deployed and valuable learnings to be gained. School space planners will likely find themselves at the center of these efforts as institutions decide whether to repurpose existing facilities or create new ones.

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