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PSeptember 20, 2013

Construction for Sociability: The Parallels Between College Campuses and Planned Communities

A recent yearning for livability and sociability on college campuses has, not only swayed a vast amount of students in their university selections, but also shifted the developing focuses of educational institutions nationwide. Higher education students are now seeking an experience similar to what one would find in a planned community or a town.

The Town of Whitehall, currently being established in New Castle County, Delaware, closely resembles the walkable, community feel college students are seeking in educational institutions.

The industry change in higher education, and how the evolution of campuses is now contributing to identifying and reinforcing of an institution’s brand, is best described by Jennifer Amster, AIA LEED AP, Principal at BJAC and EYP Architecture and Engineering. In her article, “How Campus Facilities Affect the Competition for Students”, Amster states, “In many ways, higher education has become an extremely competitive industry. Universities are being challenged to compete to recruit and retain students, faculty and staff”. People are taking a stronger interest in the need to live in an area that offers everything they need in one, walkable and organized place. This need has surfaced for environmental development purposes as well as a desire to enhance quality of life. In response to the growing need for student life and involvement, university and college leadership are competing against one another to develop their campuses and better suit their students’ wants.

Delaware State University’s Student Center: Part of the University’s Master Plan Construction Program.

Students’ desires are not the only reason that higher education institutions are making improvements to their campuses; they are also concerned with attracting successful pupils. New research performed by the Office of Research and Evaluation at the University of California suggests that students who live on campus, on average, have a GPA of .03 to .09 higher than an off-campus peer. Vice President of Student Affairs at Clemson University, Dr. Gail DiSabatino stated, “Universities and colleges have entered a facilities arms race to reach out to the best and brightest students.” By creating a more livable space for student life, packed with housing, dining facilities, gyms, recreational centers, offices and retail stores (even the occasional Starbucks!), educational institutions hope to keep their edge in an extremely competitive market.

Dr. Gail DiSabatino discussed that, at Clemson University, they have a vision for a future Student Life and Housing Master Plan that will seek enhancement for their student living experience. Clemson is attempting to shift their focus on expanding housing throughout the campus. The University’s vision includes dormitory facilities that will house dining areas, retail locations as well as a bookstore and visitor center. In addition to the housing facilities, Clemson hopes to add an honors housing unit that will include advisory offices as well as retails spaces. Clemson recognizes the recent trend that students are searching for universities and colleges that are not institutionalized. By creating a richer experience and quality of living, Clemson hopes to attract more students to live on their campus and, inevitably, become more successful in their futures.

Delaware State University’s Wellness Center

A fantastic example of a developing campus would be the 2005 Master Plan Construction Program that EDiS completed for Delaware State University (DSU). Delaware State University’s Master Plan required additions, renovations and new construction on five separate facilities throughout campus. These new and updated facilities offered the students amenities such as a book store, social areas with juice and coffee bars, a dividable multipurpose assembly room, full-sized gyms with weight and training rooms, fitness instruction rooms, meeting rooms, a game room, a pool and even outdoor volleyball and basketball courts. Delaware State University transformed their original one-dimensional campus into a state-of-the-art student life arena that unlocked limitless potential to their scholars. DSU was one of many higher education institutions that EDiS worked with on their desires to update their facilities in an effort to better suit the growing needs of their students and faculty.

Colleges and universities such as Delaware State University, University of Delaware, Wesley College, Clemson University and more are attempting to entice students into their campus living in order to better develop their academic talents. As it would be in a town, students expect their educational development to be balanced with livability and quality in one place. In order to appeal to these student’s changing desires and expectations, campuses are vastly adding and upgrading their facilities and shifting their focuses.


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