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May 7, 2014

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Campus Landscaping: Impact on Recruitment and Retention

May 20, 2014 | Winston-Salem State University | Winston-Salem, NC

SCUP 2014 Southern Symposium
Executing Campus Master Plans in Times of Shrinking Resources

May 23, 2014 | University of Calgary | Calgary, Alberta, (Canada)

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Higher Education Innovation in Challenging Times—An Integrated Approach

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July 12–16, 2014 | David L. Lawrence Convention Center | Pittsburgh, PA

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MOOC Week 4—Assessment and the Outdoor Campus Environment: Using a Survey to Measure Student Satisfaction with the Outdoor Physical Campus

We're in Week 4 of SCUP's Campus-Space Mojo, and our voyage is to Biotrophos, the Peninsula of Sustaining Life, where we are focused on Open Space planning, and also celebrating the tenth annual Campus Sustainability Day.

In “Assessment and the Outdoor Campus Environment: Using a Survey to Measure Student Satisfaction with the Outdoor Physical Campus,” Erica Eckert  mines her PhD dissertation research to create and share a new, potentially useful tool with SCUP members. Her survey of 8,000 students on eight large, public Ohio institutions, has resulted in an analysis and benchmarking tool that could be of value to many campus planners.

(SCUP members, click here to download the article.
If you are not a SCUP member, go here to purchase the article for $3.)

Eckert provided a gallery of photos related to the survey:



What do you think? Will you find this tool useful? Do you know of related tools or resources?

Tags: #CampusMojo, #CampusSpace, #OpenSpace, CampusMojoWeek4, v41n1

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If any readers  have questions about the study or how the survey works-- feel free to post here, or email me @ eeckert @ kent.edu.  Happy to discuss!

We're very glad you're here, Erica. Thank you for taking the time to engage in this SCUP community.

I found this Assessment piece particularly interesting (I admit to not having gotten through all of it but thought i would post some comments now, while I had time).

Comment 1:  Erika, what discussion did you have about the inclusion (or, obviously, not) of the concept of the creation of the outdoor room?  Your list of items surveyed addressed the consistency of the building exterior, which I actually think is not as important as the space that is defined by those buildings. Another type of space is transition space between outdoor rooms.  I think this just points out that our outdoor spaces actually have presence based on their programmatic responsibilities.  A related issue: How many of us actually program the exterior space before we construct a building?

Comment 2: I really like the split on the types of questions into 1.) attractiveness, 2.) amount, 3.) functionality and 4.) level of importance.  I wish I would have had this breakdown when I did a survey of student's satisfaction with a new teaching area we built.  I found that they really liked the cubbies, but there weren't enough of them so they down graded the rating.  This would have separated out their appreciatation from the quantity.  I will use this breakdown in the future.

Would appreciate hearing from others.

Hello, Jill--

Thank you for your comments.  I will speak to your comment regarding the outdoor room, first.  When appraising the campus environments of the eight institutions in my study, I would say that two paid close attention to the concept of the outdoor room.  As an anecdote (I am not trained in facilities planning in a formal sense), I think the concept is very important.  However, when writing the survey, I had to focus on things that were more simplistic in nature, like an inventory, because there wasn't space to explain what an outdoor room was, or a way to survey students on perceptions related to the creation of an outdoor room in the survey method I chose.  I think that doing follow-up research with students to see if they "get" the concept of an outdoor room-- or if there were a way to classify campuses that adhere to that design idea (that spaces are not dead, and can serve as rooms or transitions) to see if they are more satisfied in the aggregate has value.

To your second comment... thank you.  If doing follow-up research on your own, I do have one cautionary point.  The attractiveness and amount scales (focused on satisfaction with attractiveness, and satisfaction with amount) yielded great data.  The functionality scale was a little cloudy, and correlated very strongly with the amount scale.  I believe this is because things can't really be functional if there aren't enough of them (brightness of lighting is often related to number of light poles, not necessarily the wattage of the bulbs) so you could most likely drop the functionality concept without decreasing how robust your data are. 

I very much appreciated what you had to say, and I hope to speak with you again soon!

It would be great if there was a way to have a dialog with students about "outdoor rooms" or "transition zones" or ?? (do urban planners even have a vocabulary to discuss all the types of spaces there are?)  I agree it is a tough concept to understand and that which cannot be easily explained usually cannot be measured efficiently.  I hope that the one campus that you did find which "paid close attention to the concept" was Ohio State (I recognized the demographics.)  I was there for 13 years trying to develop exactly what we are talking about here.  Here at UW we have one of the great outdoor rooms, the Quad, which moves from great to incredible in the spring when the cherry trees bloom.

Good info on the functionality.  Thanks.  I will take that into consideration.   Good article; I need to read the rest!  :-)

I found the survey data to be quite useful.  In many ways it reinforces what I find important in  campus exterior aesthetics.  Prior to coming to Dean College I worked at a very exclusive resort known worldwide for it's beauty, quality and services.  Upon arriving here I remarked that there's no reason why we can't have the same beauty.  It doesn't have to cost as much.   Money wasn't limited at the resort, it was an afterthought.  The beauty and quality was more important than the cost.   However, with proper design and upkeep, spaces can be created at a fraction of the money I was given.  (Given for the project, not for my wallet unfortunately)

At my institution I've worked to bring beauty of form and function to the public open spaces  (formal and informal)  and to areas of passage (pathways and roadways).  I've done this with landscaping, hardscaping and lighting.  I've been successful in transforming our main quad from a densely wooded space with alternating harsh light and dark spaces into a uniformally, softly illuminated, park-like space that balances the architecture around it with the beauty of the green space.  In the past many students reported not feeling safe at night because of the dark spaces and hidden hidey-holes.  I've made the same changes in other parts of campus and now I want to turn my attention to those quiet, reflective, peaceful spaces, that are usually smaller and more private, and to those intermediate areas that can function as community spaces and also as quiet places for conversation, study and reflection.

I'm particularly interested in how other campuses have created those intermediate and intimate places.  There are certain characteristics that are required to achieve each.  I'd like to hear the thoughts of others and examples of how this was done. 

We're a small, suburban campus and I'm also interested in discussing what happens when a campus goes from being open to the public streets passing through them to being a fenced-in campus.  Our main quad is surrounded with wrought iron fencing and brick piers as posts.  We're doing the same with a new residence area we're building and I'm tasked with designing and pricing fencing for our entire campus.   It certainly helps establish a sense of place and identity and can improve security.  What have people found to be the pluses and minuses of doing this?

Brian

got through the article.  (I understand now why there were so many pictures of Kent State!  :-) )  The telling statement for me is where Ericka states that gathering data is one thing but how to administrator's use the information to inform decision making.  It still appears difficult to do so .

As one of this week’s MoJo Knowledge Guides, we are asked to make insightful observations or ask new questions. Not sure I am the person for the job, but I will take a swing at a couple anyway; see where they go.

The work done by Erica Eckert is interesting and very analytical; however, I worry how some of these findings might be used. She writes that the survey is useful in “obtaining a snapshot of student perceptions to guide campus improvement initiatives.” I wonder if perhaps some incorrect "improvement" conclusions could be drawn from this survey.

For instance, I worry that the fact trees, green space and landscaping scored predictably high may reinforce the seemingly widespread notion that high quality landscaping is one that is devoid of weeds; therefore, bring out the herbicides and chemical fertilizers that are all too prevalent on college campuses. The spray paradigm is the one many campus grounds departments live in because that is what we have been sold as the ideal way to “manage nature.”

However, in my experience working on three campuses, students generally do not favor the use of toxins on turf. Indeed, in a limited “visual preference survey,” we conducted once, students favored turf areas that showed dandelions over turf that was weed free when they were told that the dandelion-prone turf was “pesticide-free.”

Of course, the good news these days is that campuses can have even better looking—and healthier—landscaped areas without the use of toxins. However, only a handful of campuses have moved to this organic management program. For most, chemical spray is how you get beautiful turf. So it would be interesting to hear how the landscape element was defined/described in the survey.

Likewise, I wonder about the questions that go to buildings and facilities. Are respondents favoring old, historic structures (that are admittedly less energy efficient but can be upgraded) or are flashy new facilities what draw student favor? Perhaps Ms Eckert can provide some more depth there.

The issue with campus buildings focuses on the embedded carbon emissions that new construction generates. Many campuses are seeking to attain carbon neutrality; however, the emissions associated with new construction confound that effort. In short, it’s probably impossible to build our way to carbon neutrality—yet many campuses subscribe to the “donor directed” building approach. If a donor waves money, the buildings will come, need them or not. 

Accordingly, it would be useful to know exactly what attributes of campus facilities folks found attractive. It could be argued that a steady-state, historic building approach is also very attractive to people if you consider the millions of tourists that flood European nations each year with their mouths agog looking at all the old cathedrals, etc. Yet even the Ivy’s are building new facilities when, many times, existing facilities might be renovated to modern standards. So it would be useful to know more about the qualitative parts of this element.

 

@Brian-- I think your experiences "on the outside" have great value for Higher Education (although I imagine you can readily see that yourself).  Although I don't have anything in particular I can say on this topic, I imagine that there are many campuses wrestling with the same issues (creating intermediate spaces, removing roads from campus) you are.  It sounds like a really good opportunity for a Mojo panel discussion, actually-- inviting campuses that have made these changes to talk about it.  From what I've witnessed, it's a tradeoff.  (This info is derived from focus groups I have engaged with.)  Students hate being inconvenienced, but once they're on campus, they tend to like having a car-free (or less-vehicle-dense) environment... but that's the student perspective, not the campus operations perspective.

Brian Kelly said:

I found the survey data to be quite useful.  In many ways it reinforces what I find important in  campus exterior aesthetics.  Prior to coming to Dean College I worked at a very exclusive resort known worldwide for it's beauty, quality and services.  Upon arriving here I remarked that there's no reason why we can't have the same beauty.  It doesn't have to cost as much.   Money wasn't limited at the resort, it was an afterthought.  The beauty and quality was more important than the cost.   However, with proper design and upkeep, spaces can be created at a fraction of the money I was given.  (Given for the project, not for my wallet unfortunately)

At my institution I've worked to bring beauty of form and function to the public open spaces  (formal and informal)  and to areas of passage (pathways and roadways).  I've done this with landscaping, hardscaping and lighting.  I've been successful in transforming our main quad from a densely wooded space with alternating harsh light and dark spaces into a uniformally, softly illuminated, park-like space that balances the architecture around it with the beauty of the green space.  In the past many students reported not feeling safe at night because of the dark spaces and hidden hidey-holes.  I've made the same changes in other parts of campus and now I want to turn my attention to those quiet, reflective, peaceful spaces, that are usually smaller and more private, and to those intermediate areas that can function as community spaces and also as quiet places for conversation, study and reflection.

I'm particularly interested in how other campuses have created those intermediate and intimate places.  There are certain characteristics that are required to achieve each.  I'd like to hear the thoughts of others and examples of how this was done. 

We're a small, suburban campus and I'm also interested in discussing what happens when a campus goes from being open to the public streets passing through them to being a fenced-in campus.  Our main quad is surrounded with wrought iron fencing and brick piers as posts.  We're doing the same with a new residence area we're building and I'm tasked with designing and pricing fencing for our entire campus.   It certainly helps establish a sense of place and identity and can improve security.  What have people found to be the pluses and minuses of doing this?

Brian

@Dave—

Thank you for your comments.  I agree wholeheartedly that using this survey as “the final answer” could lead an institution to make partially-informed decisions.  In survey research, there is always a limitation on what you can glean from the results based entirely on what questions were asked. 

Regarding campus improvements, you are correct in that trees, green space, and landscaping scored predictably high.  In my opinion this finding is due in part to the notion that “colleges are supposed to have those things.”  (I couldn’t really get in to that as much as I wanted to in my literature review, but if you pull my full dissertation, you can find a wealth of articles that talk about students cueing off of an environment that conforms to their expectations.)

I did not ask questions about the use of herbicides because this survey was focused on visually-identifiable elements.  The items on the survey were phrased as generically as possible such as, ‘Please indicate your level of satisfaction with the attractiveness of campus landscaping (examples: flowers and shrub gardens)’ That being said, I think that this is an excellent opportunity for further research and involving students on campus. 

Bringing students in to the conversation on how campus spaces are managed provides a benefit to the students and institution alike.  A handful of the institutions that participated in this survey added questions to the end asking students to indicate how important sustainability was to them (efforts to be more sustainable, actual perceived sustainability efforts).  I don’t have the data in front of me, but if I remember correctly, the students overwhelmingly supported the idea of sustainability as important.  However, when asked about the efforts being made on their campus, the students weren’t terribly sure how much effort was being put in to being sustainable on campus. 

This finding made me wonder if perhaps campus facilities offices could benefit from the campus marketing or public relations units taking some time to trumpet the work they are doing.  Now, I realize that pesticide use is just one area in the overall concept of sustainability, but I think that this basic result is a good starting off point for further discussion with students and the greater campus community.  This is a prime example of a time focus groups would be helpful in extending the results from a survey. 

Regarding your question about buildings and facilities… student satisfaction did not appear to favor old styles of architecture, but I did not have enough institutions in my study to really draw a strong conclusion.  The high-cohesiveness campuses fared very well in this survey, but the buildings on those campuses were not all the same age.  To make any kind of real statement to that end, I think I would need to expand the study beyond the eight campuses (and I am happy to do so, if anyone wants to volunteer). 

To your final point, of obtaining qualitative data—I agree completely.  In the article I suggested that this survey be used to frame future conversations with stakeholders to get at what “really” needs to be done, and I think you have identified exactly why that is necessary in your comment. 



Dave Newport said:

As one of this week’s MoJo Knowledge Guides, we are asked to make insightful observations or ask new questions. Not sure I am the person for the job, but I will take a swing at a couple anyway; see where they go.

The work done by Erica Eckert is interesting and very analytical; however, I worry how some of these findings might be used. She writes that the survey is useful in “obtaining a snapshot of student perceptions to guide campus improvement initiatives.” I wonder if perhaps some incorrect "improvement" conclusions could be drawn from this survey.

For instance, I worry that the fact trees, green space and landscaping scored predictably high may reinforce the seemingly widespread notion that high quality landscaping is one that is devoid of weeds; therefore, bring out the herbicides and chemical fertilizers that are all too prevalent on college campuses. The spray paradigm is the one many campus grounds departments live in because that is what we have been sold as the ideal way to “manage nature.”

However, in my experience working on three campuses, students generally do not favor the use of toxins on turf. Indeed, in a limited “visual preference survey,” we conducted once, students favored turf areas that showed dandelions over turf that was weed free when they were told that the dandelion-prone turf was “pesticide-free.”

Of course, the good news these days is that campuses can have even better looking—and healthier—landscaped areas without the use of toxins. However, only a handful of campuses have moved to this organic management program. For most, chemical spray is how you get beautiful turf. So it would be interesting to hear how the landscape element was defined/described in the survey.

Likewise, I wonder about the questions that go to buildings and facilities. Are respondents favoring old, historic structures (that are admittedly less energy efficient but can be upgraded) or are flashy new facilities what draw student favor? Perhaps Ms Eckert can provide some more depth there.

The issue with campus buildings focuses on the embedded carbon emissions that new construction generates. Many campuses are seeking to attain carbon neutrality; however, the emissions associated with new construction confound that effort. In short, it’s probably impossible to build our way to carbon neutrality—yet many campuses subscribe to the “donor directed” building approach. If a donor waves money, the buildings will come, need them or not. 

Accordingly, it would be useful to know exactly what attributes of campus facilities folks found attractive. It could be argued that a steady-state, historic building approach is also very attractive to people if you consider the millions of tourists that flood European nations each year with their mouths agog looking at all the old cathedrals, etc. Yet even the Ivy’s are building new facilities when, many times, existing facilities might be renovated to modern standards. So it would be useful to know more about the qualitative parts of this element.

 

Erica,

 

Sorry if what I wrote was perhaps a bit misleading.  The "fencing in" of the campus wouldn't be eliminating any roads.  Our campus is in 3 sections, each separated by a town and/or state road.   We'd be fencing in the 3 sections and the State and Town are installing new crosswalks at the pedestrian connecting points of the three campus sections.  All student/staff/visitor parking is accessible at the edge of each section.   Internal roadways are for service vehicles only. 

Brian
 
Erica Eckert said:

@Brian-- I think your experiences "on the outside" have great value for Higher Education (although I imagine you can readily see that yourself).  Although I don't have anything in particular I can say on this topic, I imagine that there are many campuses wrestling with the same issues (creating intermediate spaces, removing roads from campus) you are.  It sounds like a really good opportunity for a Mojo panel discussion, actually-- inviting campuses that have made these changes to talk about it.  From what I've witnessed, it's a tradeoff.  (This info is derived from focus groups I have engaged with.)  Students hate being inconvenienced, but once they're on campus, they tend to like having a car-free (or less-vehicle-dense) environment... but that's the student perspective, not the campus operations perspective.

Brian Kelly said:

I found the survey data to be quite useful.  In many ways it reinforces what I find important in  campus exterior aesthetics.  Prior to coming to Dean College I worked at a very exclusive resort known worldwide for it's beauty, quality and services.  Upon arriving here I remarked that there's no reason why we can't have the same beauty.  It doesn't have to cost as much.   Money wasn't limited at the resort, it was an afterthought.  The beauty and quality was more important than the cost.   However, with proper design and upkeep, spaces can be created at a fraction of the money I was given.  (Given for the project, not for my wallet unfortunately)

At my institution I've worked to bring beauty of form and function to the public open spaces  (formal and informal)  and to areas of passage (pathways and roadways).  I've done this with landscaping, hardscaping and lighting.  I've been successful in transforming our main quad from a densely wooded space with alternating harsh light and dark spaces into a uniformally, softly illuminated, park-like space that balances the architecture around it with the beauty of the green space.  In the past many students reported not feeling safe at night because of the dark spaces and hidden hidey-holes.  I've made the same changes in other parts of campus and now I want to turn my attention to those quiet, reflective, peaceful spaces, that are usually smaller and more private, and to those intermediate areas that can function as community spaces and also as quiet places for conversation, study and reflection.

I'm particularly interested in how other campuses have created those intermediate and intimate places.  There are certain characteristics that are required to achieve each.  I'd like to hear the thoughts of others and examples of how this was done. 

We're a small, suburban campus and I'm also interested in discussing what happens when a campus goes from being open to the public streets passing through them to being a fenced-in campus.  Our main quad is surrounded with wrought iron fencing and brick piers as posts.  We're doing the same with a new residence area we're building and I'm tasked with designing and pricing fencing for our entire campus.   It certainly helps establish a sense of place and identity and can improve security.  What have people found to be the pluses and minuses of doing this?

Brian

Thanks Erica. I appreciate your clarifications. I hope facilities departments will heed your remarks and not just launch spray programs without checking with students and looking at alternative practices.

That said, here's another question about the results. Recycling containers scored down on the list of campus attractants and I suppose, compared to trees and landscaping, that's also predictable.

But it makes me wonder about several other surveys I have seen that show the presence of recycling is something that prospective students look for as indicators of how green a campus is--and that calculus plays right into where they want to go to college. Indeed, Aramark and Princeton Review both have published surveys that show ca 2/3 of prospective freshman make their buying decision, in part, based on their sense of a campuses sustainability acumen--and the poster child of sustainability is recycling precisely because it is visible and they understand it.

We also know that for recycling to work, it has to be visible and proximate to campus traffic and, worse yet, needs to be paired with trash containers at every station so users can deposit materials appropriately in the right container.

So, I guess my question is: how "unattractive" do students think these cans are? What containers are most attractive? And how should campuses balance the need for recycling-driven recruitment with overall looks?

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