The Importance of Environment Higher Education
By Rob Hailey
Shifting global trends have had a significant impact on the business, economic and political landscapes—and the academic world is not immune.
The recent International University Lifestyle Survey, conducted by Sodexo, revealed that financial debt is a major concern among today’s students, as is getting a good job after graduation. These concerns are related: Attending college isn’t just one of the first big decisions a young person makes, it’s also one of the largest financial commitments of their lifetime. Students want to feel confident that the investment they are making in education will pay off in both the short and long terms.
This has brought about a new era in higher education—in how we educate and how we operate. To remain relevant, institutions have to rethink conventional education structures and services.
Students value the on-campus experience. The survey showed that 83 percent of students believe that a friendly campus atmosphere is more important than a university’s reputation. It also revealed that 43 percent of U.S. students decide where to attend college based largely on their first impression of the physical campus environment. As universities look for new and innovative ways to recruit, they may be overlooking a very simple strategy – making a strong first impression. Institutions of higher education can be very prescriptive about the look and feel of their campus. Are the grounds meticulously maintained? Are maintenance issues addressed swiftly? Are the common-areas spotless?
While an impeccable physical environment may win students over, a robust and forward-thinking learning environment keeps them engaged and on track. With the advent of new technologies, learning styles have changed. Academic institutions need to embrace flexibility and be open to different learning models in order to engage a wider variety of students.
In our technology-focused world, mastering that art of collaboration is key to problem-solving in business and academia. The survey found that 86 percent of U.S. students study independently in their rooms, a direct contrast to the rest of the world. Universities have an opportunity to rethink how they design learning spaces, including traditional gathering areas such as libraries, study halls and courtyards.
Offering student support services such as tutoring, mental health counseling, and academic advising, can all help students get more out of their college experience. But universities need to show evidence that they are committed to their students’ futures with an empowered and pro-active career services programs that provide students with career education and advice in addition to opportunities for experiential education, internships and other work related activities. Universities must be in the business of partnering with the students to provide them with access to job opportunities that not only will cover their loans but will also ensure a bright future.
In our increasing global world, academic institutions can no longer operate in a vacuum. For students to be successful, academia needs to be open to partnering with and learning from the private sector, the community and the students themselves.
Rob Hailey is Senior Associate Vice President of University Services for Tulane University where he oversees University Card Operations, Campus Transportation, University Print/Copy/Mail Services and Dining and Vending Services, University Bookstores, Childcare Centers, on-campus banking and cell towers. Mr. Hailey also serves as an adjunct professor of marketing at Tulane’s AB Freeman School of Business where he teaches a senior level marketing course titled “Relationship Marketing” as well as a freshman seminar course on management and leadership.