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Is air quality the next hot campus amenity?

University Buildings

Is air quality the next hot campus amenity?

New research shows that students want to be back on campus, but they—and their parents—are asking more of higher ed institutions.

By David Barista, Editorial Director | August 6, 2021
Is air quality the next hot campus amenity? Pictured: Engineering lab space at Purdue University’s newly renovated and expanded Agricultural and Biological Engineering Building. Photo: © 2021 Feinknopf Photography/Brad Feinknopf, courtesy Flad Architects
Pictured: Engineering lab space at Purdue University’s newly renovated and expanded Agricultural and Biological Engineering Building. The project, which includes 125,000 sf of new construction and 37,000 sf of renovated space, serves as the new home for Purdue’s College of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. The project team included Flad Architects, MSKTD and Associates, and Pepper Construction. Photo: © 2021 Feinknopf Photography/Brad Feinknopf, courtesy Flad Architects

While the debate persists among office workers and employers on when and how “return to work” will occur as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, there is little doubt about what the nation’s 19.7 million college and university students are planning to do this fall.

They want out of mom and dad’s house. They want to be back on campus. And, it’s not up for debate, according to a survey of more than 1,500 college students by student housing developer and manager Core Spaces. The study, conducted among residents of Core Spaces properties across 14 states, showed that an overwhelming majority—92 percent—said they wanted to come back to campus when classes began for the spring 2021 semester, up from 89 percent in the fall 2020 semester. Moreover, nearly 88 percent said that they planned to go back to campus even if online/distance learning protocols were still in place. (Core Spaces has not released data for the fall 2021 semester, but we surmise that this sentiment will hold true.)

The rush back to campus places the pressure squarely on higher education institutions to maintain health and safety protocols campus-wide to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, public health and safety just might be the new in-demand amenity at U.S. universities and colleges, according to a research study on college/university selection factors by JLL’s Higher Education team. 

The JLL survey asked 500 parents of high school-aged children who are currently evaluating higher education institutions to rank their top selection factors for choosing a school. Not surprisingly, “quality of academics” and “affordability of college or university” were cited most often by parents. The eye-opener was number three on parents’ wishlist—“campus cleanliness and indoor air quality”—which was cited as an “important” or “somewhat important” factor in the selection process by 84 percent of respondents. IAQ/cleanliness outranked more traditional selection factors like location, campus housing options, financial strength of the school, diversity of the student body, and commitment to sustainability. 

Admittedly, most parents—59 percent—said that they did not consider campus air quality a factor prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ron Gregory, JLL Higher Education’s Executive Vice President North America, believes that prospective students and their parents will demand “the highest standards around cleanliness and air quality” from their school of choice.

JLL says cleanliness extends to the overall look and feel of the campus and the physical condition of the buildings. Nearly nine in 10 respondents—88 percent—said the physical condition of buildings was important; 86 percent for campus condition.   

“While transparency around campus cleanliness and air quality remains top of mind, the way prospective students and their families perceive the health and safety of the campus based upon appearance could also play a pivotal role in the decision process,” the study’s authors wrote.

The survey also sheds light on the growing importance of sustainability on college campuses. More than a fifth of parents—21 percent—indicated that the pandemic raised their awareness of a school’s overall commitment to sustainability.

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