Maximizing Space Utilization

Measuring, Allocating, and Incentivizing Efficient Use of Facilities

Topics: Academic Affairs, Deferred Maintenance, Facilities and Operations, Administration and Finance, Energy Management and Sustainability, Space Utilization, Capital Planning, Budgeting, Research Parks, Research Enterprise, Interdisciplinary Research

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Executive Summary

Improving space utilization is becoming a top strategic priority at higher education institutions of all sizes, critical to long-term advancement of mission and stability of finances. The building boom in higher education over the last ten years is over, with construction slowing dramatically on most campuses. Public institutions are seeing freezes on state funds for new buildings, with privates postponing or cancelling new capital projects due to pressure on endowments, annual giving, and debt markets.

With undiminished desire to expand enrollment, launch distinctive programs, or climb research rankings, more institutions are recognizing low space utilization to be a meaningful impediment to growth. For a decade, it was easier for the university to erect a new building than to convince faculty to teach on Fridays, accept smaller offices, or cede underutilized lab space. The downturn has changed that equation.

The cluster of root cause problems underlying low university space utilization might be described as the problems of an “illiquid” marketplace. Space is trapped in unproductive purposes, as faculty hoard facilities, refusing to give up or share space they do not need for fear they will not be able to get it back when needed.

This study outlines five imperatives for improving space utilization:

  • Utilization measurement dashboards
  • Explicit standards for space allocation and exceptions management
  • Unit-level incentives for adhering to allocation targets
  • Central space banks
  • Flexible and collaborative space

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Our Online Course Prioritization Guide is designed to help institutional leaders prioritize scarce resources devoted to online and hybrid course development toward the most promising available opportunities.

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