People and Places Make the Difference for Community Colleges

If you’re involved in the design of public higher education facilities you’re well aware of the funding challenges facing all capital projects. But are you aware that Ohio colleges are transitioning from an enrollment based funding model to an achievement based funding model? This will affect every publicly funded higher education institution in the state, but because of the students that are served; its greatest effect will be on community colleges. Community colleges throughout the state are developing strategies to improve student performance.  It appears to me, that the colleges need to approach this challenge on two levels. The first level is at the “people” level, including  administration, faculty, students etc. and the second is at the “place” level where spaces throughout the campus are created to meet the new challenge.

The People

In “Choosing to Improve”: Voices from Colleges and Universities with Better Graduation Rates, Kevin Carey sites research that studied colleges and universities that successfully increased their retention and graduation rates.  The research concludes “that three things matter a lot” regarding the reasons for staying or not saying in college to which Carey has added a fourth. And they are:

  • “It matters whether institutions focus on getting their students engaged and connected to the campus, particular in the critical freshman year”
  • “It matters whether there is a genuine emphasis on quality undergraduate teaching  and learning, because academic success and degree completion go hand in hand; and,
  • “It matters whether administrators and faculty monitor student progress, taking advantage of new data systems to tease out patterns of success. Successful schools use that information not only to help individual students but also to make needed changes in policies and practice”

And the fourth:

  • “It matters a lot whether campus leaders make student success a top institution-wide priority – and when they stick with that priority over multiple years.”

The Places

It’s common knowledge that the aesthetics of a campus is one of the top factors affecting a potential students’ choice of colleges but what is not as commonly known is how the designed environment drives performance. So how can we as designers help?

College campuses offer various types of spaces that must be considered individually and collectively to reinforce the strategic goals of enhanced student performance.  Academic, social and commercial spaces all contribute to a students’ perception of college and greatly influence how they engage and perform at the college. To enhance student performance learning environments are designed to be much more participatory, engaging and collaborative environments. Social spaces are designed to foster a sense of belonging to a greater whole while enriching the individual relationship between students and faculty. Commercial spaces are designed to provide various forms of interaction between the student and the college. These interactions can range from reinforcing a colleges’ brand through the purchase of merchandise to providing a venue for mentors to meet with student over a cup of coffee.

By careful considering all the design opportunities on a campus, designers can enrich the students’ learning experience and the colleges they attend.