The Southern California Development Forum (SCDF), an organization that provides networking opportunities for those in the real estate community, hosted a panel discussion on June 8, 2021, about how colleges and universities will effectively return to campus this fall through the lens of the built environment. The informative session discussed lessons learned from the pandemic, distance learning, bringing back the collegiate experience, and the impact of revenue and enrollment on planning and building sequencing.
Hakim Chambers, deputy program director for the Los Angeles City College District (LACCD), a billion-dollar Capital Improvement Program, served as the moderator for panelists from Cal State Long Beach, UCLA, UC Berkley, Stanford and USC.
Lessons Learned from the Pandemic
“The pandemic has forced us to look at our behaviors and how we operate, to really reflect on how we have been doing things so far and how we can improve them. Working from home and video conferencing has allowed us to connect with one another, but we’re still missing that one connection, the human connection,” said Hakim Chambers, deputy program director at LACCD.
Chambers amplifies how important it is for student development in education to experience in-person education and the impact it has on their college experience.
Students Returning to On-Campus Learning Fall of 2021
“We’re working closely with LA County Public Health to identify what that means when we come back in the fall; our plan is to come back at 80% in-person classes,” said Peter Hendrickson, associate vice chancellor at UCLA.
UCLA is preparing to reopen outdoor activity areas, recreation programs, and planning for a somewhat normal fall quarter. UC Berkley will be in-person this fall, similar to UCLA, but classes with over 200 students will be remote.
New learning models developed during the pandemic will be more flexible and inclusive. With hybrid models becoming more common, many businesses and schools are experimenting with different structures. UCLA is exploring the option of outdoor learning attributed to what was introduced as the “healthy campus initiative.”
As the COVID infection rate decreases and mandates come to an end, university leaders are working diligently to acclimate staff and students to new learning models, local data and regulations. A lot of experimentation is anticipated to see what works and what doesn’t as staff and students navigate unprecedented times.
Bringing Back the Collegiate Experience
“Students have felt disengaged,” said Monica Makutano, associate director of design and construction at California State University Long Beach. Student and faculty focus groups were conducted and the feedback received showed students value the face-to-face interaction, but also enjoy having Zoom to offer more flexibility. Staff, however, expressed they felt they were more effective working from home.
“It is kind of a big question. There are still a lot of unknowns, but we are headed to a positive place. We are grateful to have those focus groups to try and get back to what the future looks like,” said Makutano.
The Impact of Revenue and Enrollment on Planning and Building Sequencing
Housing and hospitality services were significantly impacted with limited numbers on campus using services during the pandemic. Hendrickson believes it will take four years to recover from the effects.
“We have about 15,000 beds on campus and at the height of the pandemic we only had around 750 students on campus,” stated Hendrickson.
USC, which lost several beds due to building closures was intending to break ground January 2020 on a new building in USC Village that has been put on hold for various reasons.
“We actually have had to lease space and add an offsite location that is not part of USC housing to accommodate the number of students we have joining us in the fall, specifically the freshman class that is about 200 over what we normally accept,” said Barbara Sladeck, assistant vice president at USC Auxiliary Services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly created many challenges for higher education institutions, and while university leaders are staying diligent and constantly evolving to the current issues, many suggest it will take years to come back from this crisis.
“We never go back; we are always moving forward. What is different this time around is we don’t exactly know what tomorrow is going to look like. To assume tomorrow is going to look like the last 15 months is a mistake, and to assume tomorrow is going to look exactly like yesterday is a mistake,” stated Niraj Dangoria, associate dean for office of facilities planning and management at Stanford School of Medicine.
Dangoria expressed how important a role colleges play in a student’s transition into adulthood, and how vital a robust dialogue is as they continue to serve students. The most important function university leaders provide is helping students transition into other phases of life, and it is a priority to help them navigate whatever path that may be, he said.
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