First impressions are everything.
The appearance of the buildings and grounds during a campus visit weighs heavily in influencing a student's decision on which college or university they'll attend. Prospective students want to see their potential dorm, where they’ll eat, athletic facilities, and classrooms to envision their campus life, while parents want to be assured their kids will have a clean, safe environment where they can thrive and be successful.
If your buildings aren’t clean and aesthetically pleasing, or your grounds need work, or there is trash on the floor, or bad odors around campus, chances are you’re turning potential students — and dollars — away.
In other words, first impressions and perceptions are everything. And the importance of a strong facility and custodial department on your campus can’t be overstated.
“When a college campus is well-groomed, clean, maintained in optimal condition, and safe for students, faculty, and stakeholders, the ability to recruit and retain students improves drastically,” says Dan Ball, President of HHS Education Division. “Having clean and fresh spaces — from living quarters to classrooms, and athletic facilities — as well as a campus that is functioning at 100% in every building, is a profound statement for visiting families.”
It’s also important to remember that in attracting new students, you’re not only competing with other colleges, but with other experiences. And word of mouth is a powerful tool.
Facilities as a driver of student enrollment
A landmark study sponsored by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers illustrates exactly that – in fact, 26% of the student respondents rejected an institution because an important building was inadequate, and 16.6% nixed a college entirely because its buildings were poorly maintained.
It makes perfect sense, right? After all, who envisions spending their college years learning in a dirty classroom, walking on campus with overgrown grass and broken sidewalks, or living in a smelly residence hall? And what parent wants their money to go to that kind of college experience for their kid?
Perhaps most importantly, providing a clean, comfortable environment prevents the spread of germs throughout your campus and aids your students’ academic performance. That kind of environment can boost enrollment and attract and retain new students, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Infection control and sustainability are two areas that both future students, as well as parents, are concerned about, especially as we navigate a pandemic,” added Ball.
As many higher education entities are seeing a shift to virtual education and a drop in revenue due to a decline in on-campus students, institutions are taking a closer look at ways to increase student enrollment and curb operational costs without sacrificing quality.
Higher education institutions spend an estimated 2 to 5% of their annual budgets on facilities and custodial services alone, and the spend can be over 15% when you include dining services.
Now may be a good time for your facilities department to get creative and refocus resources to support your institution’s financial stability and enhance the campus experience.
Technology tools can help your program become more efficient and cost-effective. An online work order system, for example, can help cut the costs of paper and manual work hours. Robotics for floor care and general cleaning, for example, are becoming increasingly more reliable and can improve departmental efficiency, according to Ball.
And according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, initiatives such as sealing air leaks around floors, windows, and doors with caulk and tuning up your heating and cooling system can help reduce energy costs by up to 20%. That is a substantial cost savings opportunity.
Here are a few key components to consider when building your institution’s facilities program:
1. Don't reduce resources for cleaning during these times
Custodial and grounds staff are on the front lines to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and are essential to keeping a clean and infection-controlled campus environment.
2. Keep a keen eye on your campus’ infrastructure
Elements such as your electrical, cooling and heating, and ventilation systems are essential elements of a well-run campus. Prioritize buildings requiring constant attention and cleanliness upkeep, such as those that see the most student traffic.
Having a good preventative maintenance plan in place to keep your facilities and infrastructure clean and in great condition will help keep overall maintenance costs lower over the long term.
And don’t forget to ensure all seasonal color is on full display, from flower beds and focal areas, and that your lawns and trees are in pristine condition. “It all sets the tone of your campus for any visiting family,” says Ball.
3. Separate your campus from the competition by investing in your campus environment to optimize your facilities program
The people in the support services departments keep your campus running smoothly and efficiently, so it’s crucial to ensure you have strong leadership, recruit well, and pay a competitive wage. Be sure to include your staff in your strategic planning and look to improve staff skill sets through training and development to avoid frequent and costly outside service repairs. And don’t forget to praise them often for the valuable work they do every day.
Finally, having a clean campus and well-maintained facilities shows you have pride and care about your environment. When students, faculty, and staff are proud of their school, they’re happy to go to class, and it shows in your institution’s overall educational success and reputation.
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