How Covid-19 Has Changed College Recruitment

Along with academics and athletics, universities must now jockey for students based on health and safety measures.

Every parent and student has their own college wish list. Some are looking for schools with top-rated academic programs; others, schools with celebrated sports teams. Some want to go to school in a big city; others, in a college town. Some have their hearts set on schools close to home; others, schools that are as far from home as possible.

Because they can’t be everything to everyone, colleges and universities must be savvy enough to recognize their competitive advantage and shrewd enough to sell it.

With coronavirus, doing so has become a lot harder. During the Covid-19 pandemic, students everywhere have had to vacate classrooms, libraries and dormitories in order to engage in distance learning from childhood bedrooms, kitchen tables or off-campus apartments. Although many have since returned to campus, the question lingers: If students can learn from anywhere, are college campuses still relevant?

Students think so. Just 26% of them believe college campuses should provide classes only online and over two-thirds (71%) think online instruction has negatively impacted their ability to learn, according to the nonprofit Strada Education Network. Among all Americans — both students and non-students — 42% say they would prefer to learn exclusively online because of Covid-19; if the coronavirus were not a threat, however, that number would be just 28%.

Students still crave in-person, on-campus learning. Whether they’ll continue to engage in it when they can, however, remains to be seen. To ensure that they do, schools must determine what messages will resonate most with prospective enrollees. Academics and athletics will still matter. So will student demographics and campus geography. Going forward, there’s at least one new arena in which colleges and universities must also be prepared to compete: health and wellness.

Healthy Buildings

While it’s true that they remain interested in on-campus learning, it’s also true that college students are concerned about it. A survey by market research company College Pulse, found that more than half (52%) of students lack faith in their university to protect them from the coronavirus. A survey by personal finance website ValuePenguin.com likewise found that over a third (36%) of college students are “very worried” about contracting the coronavirus on campus, and that a majority (78%) don’t trust their school’s on-campus health facility to provide quality care.

These sentiments likely will outlast Covid-19. After all, an entire generation of students is coming of age in the midst of a pandemic. When the coronavirus is finally extinguished, its memory will loom large.

With that in mind, smart colleges and universities are thinking not only about how to protect students on campus now, but also about how to make them feel healthier on campus in the future.

One idea that shines especially bright is that of asset digitization.

Thanks to the convergence of modern data science with the Internet of Things (IoT), colleges and universities can now use building information management systems to continuously collect and track key metrics about their facilities, such as relative humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide levels, all of which can impact environmental safety. For example, scientists have determined that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, thrives in dry air and cold climates, and is spread easily in large groups. Institutions that proactively monitor their facilities for minimum temperature and humidity as well as maximum occupancy may be well positioned to allay student anxiety about the coronavirus.

Post-pandemic, institutions may adjust their building management protocols in support of other, similar student concerns, such as asthma, allergies, sleep hygiene and even blood oxygenation. While all four can have a direct impact on student health, the latter two may also have implications for academic and athletic performance, as students who lack adequate rest and oxygen can struggle with concentration, comprehension and physical fitness.

As students and student athletes increasingly prioritize their health, it stands to reason that they might soon choose a school based as much on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as from U.S. News & World Report.

Prescription: Data

Digitizing assets with the help of a building information management system is a good first step toward embracing a health-and-wellness mindset. In order to turn building intelligence into an enduring competitive advantage, however, colleges and universities must strategically consider what they’re going to do with the data they collect.

For inspiration, they might want to consider professional sports. Before welcoming fans back to Bank of America Stadium for live games in fall 2020, the Carolina Panthers football team in Charlotte, N.C., partnered with Honeywell to enable real-time monitoring of indoor air quality using sensors positioned strategically throughout the stadium. When combined with occupancy and cleaning information, data from those sensors can produce a Healthy Buildings Score. Before fans are allowed into the stadium, the facility management team can check the score — which is visualized using a traffic-light system of green, yellow and red — to confirm at a glance that conditions inside are optimal. If they aren’t, it can use an accompanying dashboard to quickly identify and correct issues.

Colleges and universities might easily adopt the same system in order to attract and retain students who are interested in “the quantified self” — i.e., using technology to self-track biological, physical, behavioral and environmental data with the goal of improving one’s health, wellness and quality of life.

From Education to Empowerment

Of course, it isn’t just about health and wellness. Asset digitization and building information management also can help colleges and universities track, share and promote sustainability metrics that are important to environmentally-conscious students, or even financial metrics that are important to parents and benefactors, who more than ever want to ensure that schools are being good stewards of tuition dollars.

Ultimately, it all boils down to data and transparency. In a world that’s growing in both complexity and technology, people want free and open access to information that impacts them, and the ability to make self-directed decisions in response to it. With the merit of on-campus learning suddenly in question, colleges and universities must be willing to redefine their value proposition around new priorities and to package it in creative ways that make students feel not ju

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