New U.S. Survey Reveals Post-Covid Campus Facility Trends

According to a new national study, student enrollment is fast outpacing U.S. universities’ ability to accommodate their enrollees in academic and residential facilities. Grappling with the pandemic, over half of school leaders also see the need for more flexible staff and faculty offices, while 48% are expanding multicultural student spaces over the next year to make their campuses more inclusive and equitable.
Those are just a few key takeaways from the 2021 Campus Facilities Inventory, or CFI, a revealing survey of 88 higher-education institutions across the country who shared data on their buildings, as well as recent and planned changes to their facilities.
Conducted by the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and partner brightspot, a Buro Happold company, the research also details changes over the last year — and plans for the next three years — helping paint a lucid picture of Covid-19’s impact on how universities and colleges are planning for new facilities.
Last undertaken in 2007, the inventory is widely used for benchmarking by higher-education leaders in both public and private institutions. Among the other surprising takeaways from the 2021 version, according to SCUP and the nationally recognized consultancy brightspot, are these:
  • About six out of 10 universities will create or update campus master plans in the coming year.
  • Public schools, with larger real estate portfolios than private schools, are more likely to build new facilities over the next three years. Yet, private schools provide more space per in-person student than public schools.
  • About 62% of respondents will build out more flexible or unassigned staff workspaces, and 54% will do so for academic work facilities.
  • As hybrid and online learning increases, growth in campus facilities is unlikely to keep pace. “In-person student enrollment is the strongest predictor of the amount of instructional space on campus across all campus settings,” according to the survey authors.
The highly anticipated 2021 CFI, relaunched this year by SCUP and the partner brightspot, offers an ambitious benchmarking study with extensive data collected on 88 Institutions from Boise State to Boston College.
In a notewothy change, the researchers augmented the study with questions regarding recent and planned changes to campus facilities. Their online survey collected responses from January through April, so the CFI yields “an authoritative snapshot of both pre-pandemic campuses and pandemic-influence planning,” says brightspot associate director Allan Donnelly.
“Given that all institutions have had to make related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the SCUP survey gave respondents an opportunity to provide qualitative feedback on how the pandemic has affected their institution’s approach to campus and facility planning,” added brightspot’s Donnelly.
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