President of Virginia Wesleyan College &
Co-Executive Editor of “President to President”
We’ve heard a lot about what today a college student (and their parents) expects from their institutions.
Frequently at the top of the list is student housing. They want distinctive, comfortable, convenient, attractive student housing—not the traditional dormitory with a bathroom at the end of the hall. They want privacy and amenities, easy proximity to classes and co-curricular activities, up-to-date technology, and in-room dining options. Let’s not forget parking. Some students arrive with more than one vehicle these days.
Welcome to Gen Z’s idea of a campus Utopia, and one that keeps me up at night.
University presidents are being asked to operate affordable, attractive residential halls, without breaking the budget. At the same time we need to foster student success, comfort, and performance, without disappointing the students. It’s a puzzle of epic proportion.
Further, residence halls contribute on average about 20 percent of an institution’s revenue. Your college is therefore in the housing business, along with the instructional-delivery, restaurant, retail, recreation, security, and health-care business. Customer satisfaction in all of those areas is important, but what happens in the residence halls can be the determining factor in whether a student stays on track for graduation.
As ferocious as the competition for 18-year-olds can be in many enrollment markets, it will only worsen in the coming years. Colleges need to stay ahead of the curve. To do so, colleges must:
- Assess whether on-campus housing helps or hurts their future enrollment prospects.
- Forecast what their future desired student audience will want and need—in terms of areas as technology, security, leisure-time options, and special needs—and what the institution can afford to do.
Consider: Will your housing be a place for sleeping and studying only? Will it serve as an academic center? Will it serve clusters of like-minded students—international, honors, athletes, first-generation?
We will explore this challenging landscape in a new thought leadership series, President to President. The series, “Perspectives on University Housing—Enhancing Quality of Life and Student Performance,” will focus on integrated approaches to student housing and feature perspectives from university presidents across the country in a 10-chapter series, published by Sodexo.
For example, my experience as a president for a quarter-century has taught me that a quality residence-life program, along with upgrades in the facilities themselves, is a wise investment. You need to have curb appeal when students show up for campus visits, carb appeal in the dining hall, and a vibrant residential program to keep them engaged, motivated, and pointed toward healthy choices. To attract and retain students have to do more than maintain the lifestyle they want. You have to predict it.
Engaged students are retained students. And at smaller institutions, a vibrant housing program is a strong selling point to students and parents. Campuses have always been places where ideas could flourish, and these days colleges and universities are finding that fresh thinking about campus housing is critical to its success.
But how do cash-strapped colleges accomplish all of this? That’s what we hope the new President-to-President series will address.
# # #
Dr. Scott D. Miller is president of Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was previously president of Bethany College, Wesley College, and Lincoln Memorial University. He is chair of the Board of Directors of Academic Search, Inc. and serves as a consultant to college presidents and boards.
Dr. Miller and his colleague Dr. Marylouise Fennell are the Executive Editors of the thought leadership series “President to President” – published by Sodexo. Regularly published authors themselves, the two have edited the series “Presidential Perspectives” for the past 10 years. That series concluded in 2015 and Dr. Miller, Dr. Fennell and Sodexo are pleased that the series will continue in 2016 at president2president.com.