For many young adults, college is the first time they’ve been on their own and away from their support network of family and close friends. COVID-19 made this time of sudden change even more stressful for many by limiting social interactions and activities while still expecting students to keep up with their courses. This dramatic and sudden change has highlighted the importance of student wellness design.
College campuses nationwide have reported higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. According to a survey by the American Council on Education, 72% of college and university presidents identified student mental health as a pressing issue for the 2021-22 school year. Mental health challenges can also result in less physical activity, eating too much or too little, making unhealthy food choices and sleep disruptions. As a consequence of the psychological stress, both physical well-being and academics can suffer.
As college and universities work to regain lost ground due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many face the reality of deferred student housing updates. Lingering uncertainties related to infection control, along with shifting demographics and student expectations heighten the need for action. Based on data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment declined by about 3.5% in fall 2021 from the previous year.
Changing societal norms and student expectations have catapulted campus bathroom updates to the top of the facilities priority list. Many older campus buildings, and particularly residence halls, have communal or “gang style” bathroom configurations. This former design standard maximizes efficiency and capacity – whether a bank of showers in a residence hall or public access restrooms in campus common areas. However, campuses can no longer rely on the status quo of the past.
Decreased funding, slowing enrollment, overwhelming student debt, and higher operating costs are just some of the challenges facing higher education. Now we must also take into consideration all of the realities that will shake out on campuses following a pandemic. Recruiting and retaining students is vital. Campus housing is a valuable marketing tool to attract students and keep them living on campus. Residence hall renovations preserve campus character and eliminate costly additional land development. These critical campus updates also convert existing housing into a valuable asset while promoting sustainability.
The advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) has opened a whole new range of possibilities for three-dimensional digital design renderings. Not so long ago, when we wanted to share a new building or renovation design concept with our clients (and often their clients), the options were limited. We could either provide a hand sketch or three-dimensional physical building model, using clay, paper, foamcore, wood or other materials. The result was often beautiful and effective for sharing the project vision. But it was also time consuming, static and, relatively speaking, a costly added expense. These realities limited the use of these methodologies.
This fall, millions of K-12 and college students headed back to school amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Determining best practices for navigating this return has been challenging for administrators, teachers, students, and families alike. Design for in-person learning during a pandemic requires both flexibility and creativity. To that end, a number of manufacturers have developed innovative furniture and other classroom products to help K-12 school, colleges and universities quickly adapt to changing conditions and social distancing needs.
Our team does not endorse any one product or manufacturer. The following is an overview of some of the products we have found while helping our clients review available options. Many of these offer benefits not only for today’s continually evolving safety priorities, but also for adaptable learning spaces beyond the current pandemic realities.
In the wake of a 13% drop in enrollment for 2020-2021, colleges and universities are considering new strategies to attract students. Priorities have shifted for students and staff as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainable design standards have likewise adapted with offerings such as the WELL Health-Safety Seal to help foster trust and encourage a return to pre-pandemic campus life.
The International WELL Building Institute is just one of several organizations to develop specialized standards to address the renewed focus on infection control and safely reopening indoor environments. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Center for Active Design, and RESET have each developed modules to help facility managers measure, improve and monitor air quality, sustainability, and/or health and wellness strategies.
One of the most important outcomes of a college education is meaningful employment after graduation. However, recent graduates are seeking employment in one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression. As of December 2020, about 7.2 percent of recent college graduates were unemployed in the U.S. These statistics point to the need for a career center design shift to meet students’ needs today and into the future.
Today’s job market emphasizes the importance of robust career services to help students take their first career step. Institutions need to provide students—and parents—with a tangible reminder that they offer a quality education AND critical career resources. Even before the pandemic, career services have been assuming a more prominent role on campus.
Colleges and universities of every size must consider entrepreneurship program spaces that address the aspirations of today’s students. Dubbed ‘The Entrepreneur Generation,‘ many expect to start their own company—almost 54% of Gen Z’s according to a recent Nielsen study. Likewise, Gallup found that 40% of 5th to 12th Graders plan to start a business.
This generation, born after 1996 and raised in the ‘influencer’ age, seeks financial independence and the opportunity to make an impact. Gen Z (also called Zoomers) grew up seeing Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard roommates create Facebook in 2004. Startups like Mashable, Tumblr, Firefox and Box followed suit, with founders under the age of 22. And in 2019, the world witnessed activist Greta Thunberg taking on the United Nations Climate Action group at the age of 16.