Colleges and universities around the U.S. are feeling the financial burn from decreasing tuition revenue and wavering public support. These concerns will reach facilities professionals trying to keep up with the ever-changing sector of higher education.
Professional services firm JLL has identified some key trends for facilities in higher education, with a focus on technology and space management.
“With tech-enabled classrooms and connected living and gathering spaces, campuses are evolving to provide today’s students with the wired experience they expect,” says David Houck, co-leader of JLL’s Higher Education practice. “It has been widely publicized that higher education institutions are also experiencing significant financial pressures. As a result, some are rethinking how they plan, deliver, manage and maintain their facilities because facilities are second only to personnel in campus expenditures.”
To brace for some economic hardships, higher education institutions are adopting the practices of the private sector.
“We’re seeing more chief business officers being hired from the private sector rather than academia,” says Houck. “These executives are opening the door to fresh thinking about outsourcing strategies and looking at facility management and public-private partnerships as a means of filling funding gaps.”
Future Financing for Facilities
According to Houck and Higher Education practice co-leader Kevin Wayer, five major trends will affect higher education facilities.
1) Smarter use of space
The modes of learning have changed, which has affected how educators use facilities. For example, JLL identifies how the rise of smaller class sizes that emphasize collaboration has lessened the need for classic lecture halls. These changes have led to schools altering existing space to meet their needs.
“Brand new facilities can help ‘sell’ a campus to students, and some donors like the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy on campus,” says Wayer. “However, stretched resources and the drive for cost-efficiency mean institutions have a greater appetite for repurposing underutilized spaces.”
2) Outsourced facility management
Under a budget crunch, some institutions are hiring agencies to take care of facilities management.
3) Leveraging technology for efficiency
Staying updated on how to use data and insight tools for facilities is an easy way to cut costs.
“Universities have a ton of data, but it’s not typically aggregated in a way that allows them to assess opportunities for savings,” says Wayer. However, facility managers can leverage building data into actionable insights.
4) Facility management driving tech enablement
Many schools are educating facility managers on how to get the most out of their technology. Some send facilities professionals to seminars and conferences so they are able to effectively use the latest technologies that drive efficiency.
5) Alternative financing for new construction and renovation projects
Public-private partnerships (P3s) are becoming more common and provide options for building improvements outside of public funding. These financing plans have been used for student housing, but schools are using them for other facilities now.
“Schools have seen the broad success of student housing projects established through P3s,” says Houck. “Now they are looking at how this funding and operating structure can be used to realize other campus and off-campus projects, from academic facilities to mixed-use commercial projects and parking garages.
“Students, faculty and administrators alike want their campuses to be sustainable, tech-friendly, vibrant communities,” adds Houck. “One thing is certain: Colleges and universities are searching for creative solutions and partnerships to help realize their goals for the student experience and campus transformation.”