Universities strive to deliver high-tech, experience-driven campuses amid cost pressures

JLL's 2018 Higher Education Outlook reveals five trends set to shape real estate and facilities for U.S. colleges and universities.

David HouckThe pressures facing higher education leaders today will sound familiar to many corporate real estate executives. Their stakeholders – in this case, students, faculty and employees – are craving high-tech, experience-driven campus environments. Meanwhile, a mandate to reduce costs is making it even more challenging to deliver on that desire.

Just as today’s workplaces are evolving, so too are universities striving to upgrade their facilities to give students the wired experience they expect, from tech-enabled classrooms to connected living and gathering spaces. However, as they face significant financial pressures, some higher education institutions are rethinking how they plan, deliver, manage and maintain their facilities.

U.S. higher education leaders in 2018 will look to campus facilities as a source of added value and savings. From using energy and space more efficiently to tackling deferred maintenance and outsourcing facilities management, colleges and universities are taking a fresh look at their facilities.

Here are five trends that will shape real estate and facilities in higher education in 2018:

1) Smarter space utilization will become increasingly top of mind.

As teaching delivery models have evolved, so have the spaces needed for learning. A traditional lecture hall, for example, may sit empty while professors hold court in smaller classrooms that facilitate collaborative and interactive learning. No wonder many public and private universities are using space utilization studies. Why build new facilities when you could use existing space more effectively?

Brand new facilities can help ‘sell’ a campus to students, and some donors like the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy on campus. But in an environment of stretched resources and a continual drive for cost-efficiency, institutions have a greater appetite for repurposing under-utilized spaces.

2) Universities unlock savings with outsourced facility management.

In the hunt for savings, college and university business officers are looking closely at how their facilities are managed. More institutions are exploring how out-tasking and outsourcing facilities management can unlock savings while creating a more vibrant campus community. They’re also taking a close look at energy efficiency as a means of reducing costs while delivering on sustainab​​ility goals important to trustees, professors and students.

3) Data and analytics will help identify new real estate efficiencies.

One way to uncover potential savings in campus facilities is to analyze how buildings are used and how efficiently building equipment is operating. Using data and insights tools created specifically for facilities, higher education institutions can identify opportunities to reduce energy waste, expedite work orders, extend equipment life or even gain the advantage in lease negotiations. ​

Universities have a ton of data, but it’s not typically aggregated in a way that allows them to assess opportunities for savings. Today’s data and insights tools can translate the data generated from university real estate operations into actionable insights that more than pay for the technology investment.

4) Training opportunities will help facility managers prepare for the campus of the future.

The tech-enabled campus of the future can only become a reality if universities have skilled people to manage smart building technologies and analyze the treasure trove of data coming from sensors and other connected devices. To close the skills gap, universities are investing in education for their facility management teams. More campus facility managers are attending educational seminars and conferences organized by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and APPA, as well as in-house training. The end goal? A facility management team that’s comfortable using the latest building technologies to drive efficiencies on campus.

5) Institutions will seek alternative financing mechanisms.

Declining revenues from tuition and public support, coupled with aging facilities and rising pension liabilities, mean all colleges and universities are looking to the private sector for ideas. Interest in public-private partn​erships (P3s) is growing as both public and private higher education institutions look to fund new developments without tapping public debt. Traditionally used for student housing projects, P3s are becoming more widely adopted for other types of developments.

Schools have seen the broad success of student housing projects established through P3s. Now they are looking at how this funding and operating structure can be used to realize other campus and off-campus projects, from academic facilities to mixed-use commercial projects and parking garages.

Students, faculty and administrators alike want their campuses to be sustainable, tech-friendly, vibrant communities. As we look ahead to 2018, one thing is certain: colleges and universities are searching for creative solutions and partnerships to help realize their goals for the student experience and campus transformation.