Colleges can net millions by making campus work over the summer

Non-academic event bookings are up, says expert

Some small schools are turning to summer break as a revenue lifeline, hosting an increasing number of retreats, weddings, and other events, Melissa Korn reports for the Wall Street Journal.

While larger schools have long used the summer break to teach extra courses and relieve excess demand, a new wave of activity is seeing small schools host non-educational events to boost revenues, Korn writes.

For instance, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, recently opened its residence halls to spectators of a nearby U.S. golf tournament. And Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin projects revenue from corporate retreats, adult-education seminars, and other events will total about $2.5 million this year—a 35% bump compared to last year.

"We have really been looking at our nonacademic revenues as a key component of our income statement," explains Chris Lee, Lawrence's VP for finance and administration.

An industry-wide trend

Chuck Salem, president of Unique Venues, a company that helps event planners book locations, says schools have been aggressive about marketing themselves to planners as a way to make up for declining revenues elsewhere. About 40% of the listings on Unique Venues website are college campuses, and the company fielded 26,000 inquiries from planners about college locations last year—up markedly from 11,000 the year before.

Salem says that while academic locations are not "opulent," the investments that many schools have made in high-end facilities to lure students are having the same effect on event planners. Schools seem to be picking up on the demand. According to the website WeddingWire, listing for college-affiliated locations have grown at over twice the overall rate of wedding locations in the past five years.

Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, has highlighted its campus as a location for weddings and has 48 scheduled for between Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekend. Revenue from nonacademic sources at the school hit $1.96 million in 2014—nearly 9% of overall revenue. The school projects it will bring in $2.3 million during the current year (Korn, Wall Street Journal, 7/5).

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