Posted on May 25, 2023
Sustainable buildings may be a better marketing strategy than new recreational facilities
Colleges and universities across Indiana and the U.S. recruiting new students are facing new challenges. Campus leaders must contend with heightened fears of disease and illness in close quarters, dorms, classrooms, and a declining enrollment base. Nationally, college enrollment has been sliding in first-time college enrollment for over a decade in public and private institutions.
To boost enrollment, campuses have invested more in marketing, tweaking admissions standards, and boosting their financial aid. But they’ve also been building and renovating their way into more advanced, tech-savvy, and unique spaces. While some projects were delayed during the height of the pandemic in 2020, nearly 94% are back to reviewing their construction projects.
Sustainable curriculum and buildings mean sustainable enrollment
It’s no surprise to educators that the best learning occurs in the classroom. And it’s no surprise to campus tour guides that buildings and facilities—the things that define a campus—are the biggest assets to inspiring students and attracting attention.
News coverage of glitzy campus rock walls with murals on the wall , lazy rivers, and gargantuan recreational facilities have made some campuses reframe their focus to traditional advanced learning spaces. The marketing behind a new dorm or laboratory, however, can have significant value to students.
In a survey of 2,000 international students, 79% said universities have an important role to play in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 82% said universities should help students “understand the skills and practices of sustainability”.
The same survey said, “Nine percent felt sustainability was the most important factor in determining their university choice, putting it on par with graduate-employability (also at 9%) and the location of the university (8%).”
Colleges and universities know the decision to attend one school over another is made through various factors, including cost and their parent’s input. But sustainability may be a “sleeping factor” schools could lean on to promote how their campus stacks up against regional and national competitors. Some, like IU Indianapolis (formerly IUPUI), are starting to see the results. IUPUI was named the second most sustainable campus in the U.S. and 28th in the world.
Campuses can maximize the value of their sustainability efforts
Recycling, composting, and shuttles are highly visible ways campuses promote sustainability. But the buildings—and their significant use of potable water, energy, and heating and cooling systems—are far more critical to the environment. A 2008 Colleges Hopes and Worries Survey shows, too, it’s far more important to parents and students. 63% of respondents wanted to hear more about a college’s commitment to the environment.
In 2020, we worked with Indiana State University to renovate their Fine Arts and Commerce Building, a 63,000-square-foot building originally designed in the 1940s. We replaced obsolete electrical and water systems as well as air handling systems. That project, completed in 2019, saves ISU millions of gallons of water and reduces their energy usage by 40%. Two systems that are largely invisible to building users but make for a sustainable campus.
At IU Bloomington in 2017, we worked on new mechanical and electrical systems at Jordan Hall, the primary teaching and research facility for the Department of Biology. That project involved new ductwork, exhaust fans, and heating water distribution systems. All are nearly as invisible as the air faculty and students breathe in the room, but significantly reduced the water usage and heating costs of the facility.
Also in 2017, a new boiler system was installed at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology on that campus’ oldest academic building, dating to 1922.
Parents and students alike want to know more about universities’ work to help the environment. Campus leaders can respond by playing up the work that often goes unnoticed inside building systems that drive big change. It just might drive a big change in enrollment, too.