What we learned at SCUP Annual Conference

What we learned at SCUP Annual Conference

A few weeks ago, DIALOG attended one of the largest meetings of the minds dedicated to post-secondary planning—the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Annual Conference. DIALOGers representing all of our Canadian studios flocked to Washington, D.C. to learn about trends in the higher education field and find out what challenges we can solve that face these institutions. Here’s a few of our findings.

#1: A challenge facing universities is a lack of demographic diversity and low integration with the surrounding community.

DIALOG incorporates social sustainability and community integration into every design. We can certainly contribute ideas around community building and fostering diversity in the design of campuses. We have the ability and the expertise to expand the function of the university as a community resource and amenity, creating mixed-use environments that allow for community services on campus. Adding amenities such as housing, daycare and food services allows a broader demographic the opportunity for an education and are revenue generators for the institutions.

“Our engagement process is focused around enabling as many opportunities to create a richer, diverse, and accessible educational environment, which often includes reaching out and establishing partnerships and synergies with the local community, municipalities, institutions, businesses, and other key stakeholders.” –Gail Shillingford, Planning and Urban Design Associate (Toronto)

#2: Universities are constantly adapting to changes in societal norms, so their programs, modes of delivery and facilities need to accommodate those changes.

DIALOG’s integrated design approach has already been used to tackle this kind of challenge for many sectors, including post-secondary. Our collaborative and inclusive process with the client, user and stakeholder engagement, integration of planning and landscape architecture, and cultural design are strengths we can use to design better campuses.

“Maintaining the status quo in the current pedagogical system is not an option as it doesn’t equip new graduates for the shift in the global economy. As colleges and universities shift the way they deliver programs, we need to shift the way we design spaces that house these activities.” – John Souleles, Project Architect, Associate (Calgary)

Dino sighting at SCUP workshop: Out with the prehistoric thinking and in with new insights and focused initiatives.

 #3: Low enrollment is affecting universities of all sizes.

DIALOGers were surprised to find out that 40% of U.S. post-secondary institutions have less than 1000 full-time equivalent students. Smaller universities are merging their resources in an effort to provide a variety of programs and offerings. In turn, their buildings and spaces need to accommodate this range of programs. Enrollment drop across North America is a huge concern, and some of it can be attributed to affordability. Better integration of the campus within the broader community through thoughtful design, as noted in #1, can help with this.

It was great to see such a diverse group of post-secondary planners get together to discuss their common ground. Many are mindful of adapting to societal change, engaging with the community beyond campus, and thinking critically about how to deliver relevant higher education.

We have a long history of improving post-secondary campuses—check out our post-secondary buildings and master plans—and the connections we made at SCUP will allow us to meaningfully improve even more communities.

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