Audio: Getting More Realistic in Campus Planning

Courtesy of Harvey H. Kaiser

Harvey H. Kaiser and Eva Klein say in their new book that colleges should approach campus planning and building more holistically.
September 29, 2010

Colleges have put up a lot of buildings in recent years, and for a while there, it seemed that various institutions couldn't be satisfied and stop. There were new labs to be built, new student centers, and new recreation facilities, with their infamous climbing walls.

Now, after a crippling recession, a price must be paid. Even some rich institutions are swimming in debt, and the burden of campus maintenance is heavier than ever. Despite all the time spent on master-planning sessions, college leaders are surely thinking that there has to be a better way to plan and invest in campus facilities.

Harvey H. Kaiser and Eva Klein, two well-known consultants in campus facilities, think so. Higher education has never had enough money to satisfy the building wishes of faculty members and administrators, they say, and it has never set aside enough money for maintenance and renewal.

"Even if the recession is over with, the point is we can't go on acting like we can make a $2-billion list of wishes when we know we're only going to get roughly $50-million a year at best," Ms. Klein says in the podcast featured on this page. "It doesn't work. We have to completely stop that behavior and get more realistic for the long run."

The two consultants lay out their vision for a more realistic and holistic approach to campus planning in their new book, Strategic Capital Development: The New Model for Campus Investment (published by APPA). The book guides administrators through a comprehensive process that includes reviewing strategy, assessing needs, laying out a capital plan, dealing with financing, and carrying out the various stages of the plan.

That might seem like common sense. But Mr. Kaiser says that although colleges are accustomed to doing studies on space capacity and the condition of the facilities in their planning processes, "all these one-off studies on limited aspects of the institution, even the visionary master plan, broke down because they didn't link back to the strategic thinking about the institution—where it is, where it wants to be, how things fit with where it is today."

Moreover, Mr. Kaiser and Ms. Klein say, too many colleges abandon plans before seeing them through. Consistency in leadership is one of the key elements to a successful strategic capital plan.

"We're concerned that we often see that a change in leadership will bring a call to start all over again with a process to define priorities," Ms. Klein says. "Building a campus is not a one-year or four-year thing. It's a very long-term process."