If you’ve got kids, chances are, you know college is expensive. Whether your kids are still in diapers or getting ready to graduate high school, you’re probably very familiar with the looming cost of higher education.
As the cost of a four-year degree continues to rise, enrollment is declining. In 2012, the number of students attending college fell by almost half a million people after more than 20 years of rising enrollment. One would think that higher learning institutions would also cut their costs to help attract new students, but it’s exactly the opposite.
Infrastructure is king
Across the country, colleges are building shiny new buildings for students. At the University of California at San Diego, $2 billion worth of new facilities, including a new engineering building, an addition to the school of management and several other new structures, including a parking garage, labs, an apartment and dining complex and a music center were either recently completed or in the process of planning, design or construction.
Across the US, colleges have seen a decrease in their numbers amid rising tuition rates. Shortfalls are being covered with alumni donations and endowments that are also dwindling, as people have to reach deeper into their pockets just to pay their tuition bills.
According to The Hechinger Report, since 2010, universities and colleges have spent more than $11 billion on building new facilities—twice what they spent in 2000, a boom year compared to the economic doldrums of 2010-2012.
But nothing is free
So what happens after these state-of-the-art buildings are completed and there are not enough students to fill them or pay the bills to keep the lights on? In a time when universities are looking to trim their budgets, the square footage is increasing and these new additions need to be heated, cooled, cleaned and maintained.
Some industry experts estimate that construction costs only make up a third of what it costs to maintain a building over its lifetime. When you add in repairs and maintenance, the bills skyrocket.
At the University of California at Riverside, there were two buildings planned for a new medical school. One of the buildings was built and the other had to be delayed because there wasn’t enough money in the budget to run both, causing the opening of the medical school to be pushed back.
Despite anecdotes like this one, the building boom is not going to subside anytime soon because a university relies on state-of-the-art facilities and comfortable buildings to help them attract students. But colleges can be smarter about how they plan and optimize new buildings to make sure they are used to their fullest potential.
Do we need all of these buildings?
Universities that want to control their spending and trim operating budgets can use people counting technology to help them plan and use these new structures so they don’t have a campus full of buildings with each one operating 50 percent capacity.
Schools can also use this technology to help them map trends in other buildings for future planning. If a new residence hall is in the planning stages, traffic counting can help architects and engineers plan the building so it will be utilized to its maximum potential. This is especially important when considering operating budgets because a building with a lot of wasted space still needs to be maintained.
Traffic counting technology should also be employed in gathering places, like university libraries, student unions and dining halls. By tracking peak hours and shifts, universities can ensure they have each location appropriately staffed and that they are not overbuying food products for dining halls or other items needed for their day-to-day operations.