In August 2020 Sasaki held a series of roundtable discussions. Each of the three sessions engaged representatives from large public institutions, east coast private institutions, and urban private institutions. From the conversations, nine recurring themes and topics emerged. Read on to learn what’s facing campus leaders today with key takeways from Sasaki’s practitioners.
Theme 1: The Move Online
At the time of the roundtables, all institutions were finalizing plans for the fall of 2020, some focusing on a safe return to campus and some focusing on hybrid or online delivery of courses. Some were in the process of changing from in-person or hybrid delivery to online delivery, due to increases in COVID-19 cases in their region.
Key takeaways for Theme 1
- Institutions focusing on online delivery were limiting in-person instruction to labs and collaborative activities that would be difficult to accomplish online
- Providing access to buildings for those permitted to return (researchers, certain lab and collaborative activities) was an issue especially on campuses with limited card swipe building access technology
- Unexpected costs and issues emerged as courses moved online, including the need to provide laptops and access to Wi-Fi for some students
Theme 2: Outdoor Appreciation
The emphasis placed on fresh air and the need to social distance, pushed more activities outdoors, especially for institutions offering in-person or hybrid course delivery.
Key takeaways for Theme 2
- Installation of tents for outdoor learning, gathering, and dining and the need for additional outdoor furniture resulted in unanticipated costs
- Utilization of parking lots and garages as classrooms as students were seeking access to online courses from their cars (especially in hot climates where shade is important)
- Utilization of parking garages for group activities such as dance classes
- Expansion of WiFi into these spaces was an essential first step
Theme 3: Housing Strategies
Providing safe housing options for returning students presented challenges to the residential financial model and the ability of institutions to accommodate students.
Key takeaways for Theme 3
- A move to single occupancy rooms limited overall capacity
- Bathroom counts were the limiting factor in determining occupancy
- Several institutions resorted to renting hotel rooms or even purchasing a hotel
- Even institutions that went online had to provide accommodation for students with no other options (athletes, international students, students with unstable home environments, or environments lacking Wi-Fi)
- Setting aside quarantine locations further reduced housing capacity and increased costs
Theme 4: Cultural Change
The pandemic required changes to culture and behavior frequently at odds with the traditions and values of higher education.
Key takeaways for Theme 4
- Need to create social contracts with students and getting them to buy into behavioral change
- Student mental health concerns and the need to provide services online
- Pay cuts and furloughs for staff
- Cancellation of traditional events such homecoming, graduation, sporting events, etc.
Theme 5: Dining and Food Service
The business and operational models for dining and food service changed quickly in response to the immediate decline in business and the need for social distancing options.
Key takeaways for Theme 5
- A shift to a grab-and-go model and closure of traditional dining halls had a significant impact on the financial model
- Increased waste from grab-and-go containers (and PPE)
- Revenue losses on food contracts
- Layoffs for some of the institution’s most vulnerable employees
Theme 6: Adaptation and Appropriation of Space
Campuses quickly and creatively adapted campus settings to support a variety of functions in a socially distanced manner.
Key takeaways for Theme 6
- Lawns and open spaces, aided with tents, now host instruction, and support social and co-curricular events
- Parking lots and garages, when equipped with WiFi, accommodate instruction, co-curricular activities, and provide space for downtime–a need triggered by capacity limitations in other venues
- Use of stadiums as instructional spaces
- Potential repurposing of recreation centers for child care for essential staff
Theme 7: Financial Impact
The financial impact of the pandemic is a considerable challenge for most institutions. Impacts to the business model included:
- Reductions in tuition revenue as a result of deferred enrollment and participation
- Tuition discounts for online courses given the “diminished value” versus in-person education
- Enrollment declines
- Cancellation of fall sports, in particular football, and the loss of revenue
- Reduced occupancy in residence halls resulting in lost revenue, and renting hotel rooms to make up for decreased housing capacity on campus
- Costs associated with social distancing and safe environments including testing, PPE, plexiglas shields, storage for furniture removed for social distancing purposes (pods or warehousing), and signage to convey social distancing guidelines and recommendations
Theme 8: Air Quality
For those returning to campus, indoor air quality was a focus.
Key takeaways for Theme 8
- Modifications to HVAC operational modes to increase fresh air intake resulted in increased energy costs and carbon emissions
- Challenges with high-performance buildings designed to be more airtight required modifications to that negated the energy saving features of the buildings
- Increased appreciation of and momentum for operable windows and access to fresh air
Theme 9: Silver Linings
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, some silver linings have emerged, providing the inertia to make change and to accelerate changes that were already in motion.
Key takeaways for Theme 9
- Expanding the prime instructional period to beyond the traditional peak period of 10am to 2pm
- More institutions now offer access to hybrid learning opportunities and online education
- Accelerated the widespread distribution of zoom/video conferencing accounts to community members
- Increased conversion to key card access to buildings
- Accelerated an appreciation of the benefits of comprehensive wellness on campus
- Proven success of work from home assists with surge planning and the implementation of capital projects
- Created a renewed interest in outdoor spaces with the potential for increased funding
- Opportunities to rethink work and office environments
- Confirmation that the campus is not obsolete and is essential to the academic success and social development of students
Read more about Sasaki’s latest thinking surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic here.