You may have heard of destination weddings, but what about a destination campus?

The difficulties associated with higher education enrollment are familiar to many of us. Our survey results echo this fact. The big secret is how to tackle those challenges and rise above them by creating the best college or university experience out there. How can we show students that there is enormous value in living on campus and attending school in person? How can we address their concerns and still give them an enriching educational experience? We may not have all the answers, but we believe this starts at the core of the physical campus. Let’s dive in and explore some solutions to challenges in higher education today.

In choosing a college or university, the hundreds of students who responded to our survey had two main considerations:

  • Best program for their desired major
  • Nice student housing/on-campus housing

What determines that a school has the best program available? Certainly, students can look at job placement rates from a specific program or even graduation rates. However, there is much to be said for the quality and modernity of the program’s location – aka, the building itself. Say you are interested in a health sciences program, and you are checking out a few different colleges online. If you see photos of basement classrooms with old equipment and peeling paint, you might think twice about how good that program is. When you see it in person on an admissions tour, it could discourage you from attending that college at all.

If a college or university invests in its program spaces, it lets students know they will also be invested in. Another aspect of design in academic spaces that encourages students is having active learning on display. What does this look like? It could be an arts and humanities building with a gallery space that exhibits student art or a glass-front classroom featuring state-of-the-art equipment. As a prospective student walking through the department, you get to see all of the amazing things you’ll get to accomplish in action. Let students know through your physical spaces that you have the best program for them to be successful.

Student housing is another aspect of the physical campus that can make or break it for students.

Of course, it is important for student housing to encourage community among students and provide certain amenities, but there’s another key to successful student housing – affordability. Housing can be a large part of the expense of attending college in person, and it’s not surprising that many students are searching for the cheapest available housing they can find. As a first step, colleges and universities can research the area near campus and determine the housing options and how much they cost. As it can be challenging to offer enticing student housing at a comparable price, this is where a designer or architect can come in handy. They will know the best layout, materials, and equipment to design student housing that is affordable and desirable for students.

According to our survey, most students were interested in either shared space with roommates only or a private room. Many students would like a housing layout where they can have their own place to go and unwind, study, or relax. It’s important to consider community spaces in student housing as well. By encouraging social engagement, students are brought a sense of family and comfort at a time when they might be missing home. These community spaces can also be designed to feel like your own living room at home, again bringing comfort and security to students.

This brings us to some other deterrents that prevent students from attending college or university – cost, student life, anxiety, campus safety, and being away from family were among the top listed in the survey responses.

All of these deterrents can be addressed through the physical aspects of a campus. Spaces that give students privacy and quiet, or home-like comfort, can help with anxiety and homesickness. Careful planning and layout of buildings and walkways, along with clear signage and lighting, are all significant in keeping students safe. Student life flourishes when there are intentional places to hang out, eat, exercise, or relax together. Whether this is a bustling student center or cozy nooks in the hallways of dorms, the design brings student life alive.

What else drives students away from attending school in person? The digital world!

It can be easy to hop online, sign up for the required classes, click through a few quizzes and tests, and scroll through the readings to get a few credits. But students need interactions, new ideas from other students, and immersive projects that bring these subjects to life. They are losing out on some of the huge benefits of in-person education. However, the convenience of online classes can be beneficial, especially to working students, parents who are students, or students with disabilities.

Our survey results show 77% of students prefer a hybrid or in-person environment. So how do we accommodate everyone’s desire for flexibility while encouraging students to thrive on campus? Make things accessible and easy to attend! Offer classes that are given in person to be streamed online in case there are students who can’t make it in person. Incorporate technology around campus to connect students on or off campus and give them the flexibility to be there or at home. Design a campus where students want to be, where they feel welcomed and surrounded by friends, with places to chat, watch sports, eat decent food, and learn together. Use your physical campus to stand out and allow students to work the way they work best. Give students options, and you might be surprised at how many choose to be a part of campus life.

So, is it worth it – spending money to go to college or university in person? Nearly 70% of survey respondents say yes, it is! And what is the first step in getting them to take the leap into the world of higher education? Create a campus that is a destination, a home away from home – a place students look forward to going. Make it safe, comfortable, fun, and encouraging. And with that, you have a starting block for a thriving, booming college or university.

Read More: Do Colleges Truly Understand What Students Want from Them? – Harvard Business Review

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