The Big Picture

2008 was quite a roller coaster. From an historic election to a worldwide financial crisis to yet even more technological advances, everyone, including today’s students and their parents, has been on a wild ride. How can colleges and universities cope and compete in the uncertain months ahead? College Planning & Management asked some experts to gaze into their crystal balls and find some answers.

Show Me Some Money

In what will be remembered as an economic meltdown of historic proportions, Barbara Fritze, vice president for enrollment and education services, Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA, cautions her colleagues. “Don’t panic,” she said. “Don’t try gimmicks to boost enrollment. It doesn’t serve your students or their education in the long run.”

While Fritze feels that the headlines remain bleak, opportunities still present themselves to students and their families. “There will not be a complete shutdown of the education system. But individual families will evaluate the situation and react in different ways.” This includes: more students choosing community colleges for the first two years of their education, families being more wary of aid packages that are predominately loan-based, and parents becoming more involved in college choices.

“Not every college will be impacted in the same way,” she continued. “School budgets that are profoundly tuition-based are very vulnerable. But even endowments are shrinking. They may not be the usual three to five times the annual budget.”

This lack of liquidity has schools making strategic budget decisions and yes, some cuts. “We have a major building project underway at Gettysburg and it will be completed,” related Fritze. “New projects will be re-evaluated.” She insisted that the academic experience should not suffer. “We just may have to get smarter in how we deliver it.”

Green Is the New Black
“LEED’s rating system is evolving, and it will have an impact on all new construction,” said Peter Doo, AIA, LEED-AP, president, Doo Consulting. Materials for Version 3.0 will be available in February and will offer a menu of choices that look very similar to the old version. However, an emphasis will be placed on regionalism.

“Different regional chapters will decide what to emphasize depending what is important locally,” explained Amanda Sturgeon, AIA, senior associate, Perkins & Will. “What is appropriate in the Pacific Northwest may not be an issue in Texas, for instance.” Doo agreed. “Version 2.2 gave credits for acquiring materials regionally, but they defined regionally by drawing a circle with a 500-mile radius around the location,” he said. “That puts most of your region right in the Atlantic Ocean if you’re in Miami.”

Along with the regional credits, Version 3.0 will allow a total of 20 points instead of 10 for maximizing energy efficiency, and another five are available for “Innovation.” Projects that are already registered with Version 2.2 should continue on under those guidelines.

Will the current economic situation change the way people feel about LEED? “Statistics show that obtaining a Silver or Gold rating doesn’t cost more and ends up saving money in the end,” said Sturgeon. “The cost benefit is there,” agreed Doo, “and of course LEED is a way to attract students’ and donors’ attention.”

While LEED may seem old hat by now, planners should be on call. “The next update comes in 2011,” said Sturgeon. “I predict that version will look significantly different.”

New Road to a Bachelor’s Degree

The traditional path to a bachelor’s degree has taken a detour at South Texas College, one of a handful of two-year community colleges now offering an accredited four-year degree. “It’s been quite controversial,” admitted Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president, South Texas College in McAllen. “Community colleges see it as getting out of the designated box while four-year schools feel that it’s mission creep.”

Dr. Reed, however, sees it as a way to strengthen the economic ties between her school and the workforce the surrounding area demands. The school offers two Bachelors of Applied Technology (BAT) degrees, one in computer & information technologies and another in technology management. “These degrees offer both theoretical and practical knowledge,” explained Dr. Reed, “while traditional four-year-schools offer only the theoretical part.”

Dr. Reed sees this as the wave of the future and a natural fit for a B.A. in nursing as well — but not for everyone. “It’s critical for our local economy,” she said. “Community colleges are meant to support the community. If a university is already delivering the same program, then fine. But if they are not, then community colleges are uniquely poised to build on our applied science offerings already in place.”

What’s on the Menu?

How’s your grocery bill looking lately? Just as the average consumer is experiencing sticker shock at the checkout, so are college and university foodservices. But they are coping. “People are getting creative,” marveled Gail Campana of The National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS). “They’ve found really great ways to rein in costs.”

These methods include: adjusting portion sizes, swapping expensive proteins like chicken breast for equally delicious and nutritious options like chicken thighs, banding together to create food purchasing groups, and going back to buying in bulk and warehousing. They are also re-discovering the joys, and cost savings, of making bread and other pastries from scratch.

Another trend on the horizon for 2009 provides cost savings while helping hold the sustainability line. Many schools have decided to go trayless, and many more are considering it. “The savings are absolutely enormous,” said Campana. “The University of Illinois has saved 110,000 gallons of water, 473 pounds of dish detergent, and 33 gallons of rinse additive. The kitchen staff loves it, too, because the dishwasher runs less often, making the air less hot and humid.”

Buying local food is a movement that has also picked up steam. Some schools are growing their own…  even in the frozen Midwest. “Michigan State has an organic farm set up in cold frames so when there’s snow on the ground students can still have fresh, local salad,” continued Campana. “Of course the definition of the word ‘local’ depends on the school. In California, which is flush with farms, local can mean within 50 to 70 miles of the school. Montana may mean between 150 to 250 miles.”

What’s the Twitter About?

Technology will continue to wield its influence into 2009 and beyond in two distinct ways. The first is how schools will operate in this new digital age. “I predict a lot of self service and empowerment brought on by digital advances,” said Dr. Fred Siff, vice president and chief information officer, University of Cincinnati. “Professors will e-mail out grades and administrators will e-mail out bills, and this will generate cost savings on a huge order of magnitude.”

Dr. Siff can point to a concrete example right in his own backyard. “We were the biggest advertiser in the local want ads, but since we went to online postings we save $180,000 a year,” he said. “That is clear and unambiguous savings.” With the current economic realities in place, Dr. Siff predicts “draconian budget cuts. But technology will make things a bit easier. Savings can come from things like automatic switchboard attendants or reduced copy fees.” However, schools aren’t rushing out to buy new technology, either. “The refresh cycle will be longer.”

Technology also promises to change the way school deliver education. “Today’s students have a very firm expectation of how they want to lean,” said Dean Colleen Kennedy, University of South Florida. “They want classes delivered totally online. They want access to library materials 24/7. They want to demonstrate their knowledge in more innovative ways than a paper or a PowerPoint presentation, and they want digital access to their instructors.”

As a result, students at her school are exploring learning in Second Life (an online cyber-world) or presenting work on Wikis (online pages edited by the users). “Students are engaged with technology in ways that are astounding,” raved Dr. Kennedy. “We had a student who was gravely injured in an accident. Instead of letting her drop out, her classmates set up a Webcam in her house, so she didn’t miss a class. It was just another day at school for the students, but I was amazed.”

Another amazing reality is iTunesU. Offered by Apple, iTunesU presents lectures from a variety of schools on a variety of topics. Students, or anyone, can download the lectures or other materials that are in the public domain, for free. “It’s a great boon to our students,” said Dr. Kennedy. “Learning can occur anytime and anywhere.”

Safety First
Safety remains one of a school’s most important issues. And with safety, the more things change the more they remain the same. “A thumb lock on a classroom door allows people to secure a room from the inside. It’s been around for 150 years and costs $25,” said Edward Dublois, principal security consultation, Dublois & Associates. “In the case of an active shooter that thumb lock could save 20 lives.”

Of course, technology offers many more layers of security to the mix. Mass notification remains paramount in an unfolding emergency situation, and today there are many ways to get the word out. E-mail and text messages prove popular and will continue to be used. Dublois also sees a place for message boards like the ones used on highways to alert drivers to accidents, construction, or traffic conditions. “There’s nothing pretty about them,” he admitted, “but if implemented with discretion, they have their place.”

Open, accessible campuses are the hallmarks of a college. However they also provide easy access for active shooters or perpetrators of personal crimes. Metal detectors can’t be effectively used because of the false positives they show and the bottlenecks they create. Non-evasive body scanners now being used at some airports would solve the problem — at a price. “Maybe one day they will come down in cost enough to be used in a college environment,” hoped Dublois.

Until then, schools can invest in smart camera systems. These marvels can actually count the contents of a room and alert someone if something, say a laptop, turns up missing. They can “know” if an area is fenced off and alert someone if 25 people show up there. Even more amazing, the information can be stored on a network, allowing security officials to monitor the cameras off site on a handheld device, such as a BlackBerry.

Giving Back
Many schools are demanding more from their students than good grades. Colleges are encouraging students to volunteer, and the students are more than happy to comply. “Many schools have a community service office,” said Nicole DiDomenico, director of Volunteer programs, Norwich University, Northfield, VT, “and it’s a growing trend to have at least one full-time staff member.”

Makes sense, since students today come to school wanting and willing to give back. They started back in K–12 and, while numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a decline in volunteers in 2007 across the board, it does show that people — especially college graduates — give their time and effort to causes they believe in. “Students coming in are flocking to our service programs,” continued DiDomenico.

Service learning programs can run the gamut from architecture students designing a house for Habitat for Humanity to an international program like the one founded recently at Norwich. Students traveled to Vietnam for three weeks as peacekeepers and diplomats. As Norwich is a military school, the idea of citizen soldier rang true for the Vietnamese as well as the students.

Not all projects have to be as far-reaching. Students also participate in soup kitchens and sorting donated clothes. “It gets kids out of the bubble of the campus,” said DiDomenico. “It makes for a richer experience.”

Big Building on Campus
Schools are asking for today’s campus buildings to do a multitude of jobs. “I’m seeing more and more fusion programs that blend a number of different uses into each building,” said Nels Hall, FAIA, principal, Yost Grube Hall. “For instance, the new rec center at Portland State University also holds the city of Portland’s archives, the chancellor’s office, the school of social work, and retail at the ground level.”

Mark Cavagnero, FAIA, Mark Cavagnero Associates, agreed. “Part of it is in response to how students live. They need more lounge space.” Part of that demand comes from shrinking personal space. “Bolls Hall at Berkeley was designed for two but they put four students in there now,” Cavagnero said. “With no space in their rooms to hang out, the students need more public lounge areas.”

“Not only are buildings doing more, they are moving closer to the core,” he said. “Schools want density. It makes it easier to get around. In the ‘80s, the trend was to build out, but now campuses want to retool what they have for more efficiency.”

Libraries will continue on their path as learning centers, with a multitude of spaces for meeting and lounging. But will they ever go bookless? “People have been talking about the bookless library for 20 years, and I’m not seeing any reduction in collections,” said Hall, who does admit that medical libraries add their yearly volumes of research electronically. “We are seeing a reduction of branch and satellite locations,” he continued. “Everything is moving to one large, central repository with 24-hour computer access to everything.”

Citizens of the World

The U.S. has always been the top country of choice for higher education for international students, and 2007-2008 turned out to be a banner year. “According to Open Doors, there were 623,805 international students in the U.S. during the 2007-2008 academic year,” said Beryl E. Meiron, executive direction of IELTS International. “This was an increase of seven percent over the previous year, bringing the total number of internationals studying in U.S. institutions of higher learning to the highest level ever.”

The up tick comes from a combination of good marketing abroad and the U.S. State Department getting behind the push. Countries that have the highest number of U.S.-bound students include China, Vietnam, India, and Brazil. “The U.S. Department of Commerce had TV ads in China highlighting the positive experiences of Chinese students in the US — a very successful campaign,” continued Meiron.

This new pool of students is great news for schools that want to highlight diversity. “It makes for a richer experience,” Meiron said. It also helps fill the coffers, as many international students are able to pay full tuition rates. “International students and their families contribute a reported $15.5 billion to the U.S. economy.”