Campus Real Estate and the Student Experience are Interlinked
Metropolitan College of New York is a case in point…
Spearheaded by Planning Plus Associate Steven Greenwald’s tenure as President, this well-regarded, globally-positioned college faced a major crossroad at the turn of the century.
A commuter college with an older student body of working adults, the College’s model was experiential learning — linking the semester’s curriculum with the semester’s real work experience — and the College promised help in finding students a position within their field.
In 1999, when former President Greenwald assumed his position, the College had an enrollment of about 1,500 students on its main campus in downtown Manhattan and approximately 500 additional students at its satellite campuses (extension centers) in Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The premise of the satellite campuses was to “bring the College to the students in the outer Boroughs.” While an admirable goal, it seemed that education was suffering.
The College realized that the faculty associated with the main campus refused to go to the satellite campuses, and the faculty that made up the teaching staff in the satellite campuses overwhelmingly consisted of adjunct faculty. At the same time, the satellite locations offered none of the amenities or support spaces that the main campus did — there were no registrars’ offices, libraries, career counseling, admissions centers, student study spaces, etc. In short, the learning experience at an extension center was significantly inferior to that at the main campus. However, in order to close a revenue shortfall, the College had, the prior year, significantly increased tuition at the satellite campuses.
The Bronx lease was due to expire in 2001: the leased buildings were not well maintained and were potentially dangerous to the student body. This impending expiration of the lease sparked a discussion on the Board about the viability and the integrity of maintaining extension centers, which, while profitable, were so at the expense of student learning and experience. After discussions that stretched over a several months, the Board voted to close each of the extension centers and to consider expanding the main campus.
Ultimately, the decision to expand the main campus was propelled by the College’s learning that the floor below in the Manhattan campus facility was vacant. A lease for the new space that was concurrent with the existing lease was negotiated, and the College’s square footage was expanded by about 40%. The College has since gone on to expand into a new Manhattan location, doubling its footprint, and opening a new Bronx location.
Former President Greenwald was very involved in the lease negotiations, retaining an architect, selecting an investment firm that specialized in specific bonds, hiring contractors, permits, etc. He notes that a firm like Planning Plus, with its overlapping areas of expertise and capabilities, could have expertly advised the Board on any number of issues, streamlining the process…
It’s not, however, just about making the president’s life easier. There is a symbiotic relationship between the academic mission of an academic institution and its physical presence with each enhancing the other. Students want to focus on their studies, and any help an institution can provide, whether academic or physical, makes students’ lives easier and keeps them engaged with the institution. By realizing that students weren’t being well-served, that its existing real estate did not serve students’ needs or institutional needs, and that the mission needed to be firmed up at the main campus, by being willing to make hard choices, retrench, re-invent its physical presence, and ultimately strengthen its goals and mission, the College’s growth and prestige was assured, and its unique academic mission continues better than ever.