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

The Drivers of Space Growth

Classroom Space-The Critical Capacity Driver

While classrooms represent a small (typically less than 7 percent) share of space on most campuses, they are a critical capacity driver. Managing enrollment growth and ensuring that students have access to the classes they need in order to graduate on time often depend on improving classroom utilization.


With the exception of community colleges, most colleges and universities allocate a very small share of their campus to classrooms (averaging 4 percent to 6.5 percent). Yet scheduling classrooms is perhaps the most common space management challenge in higher education. Classrooms (followed closely by residential space) are the most important factor in determining enrollment capacity. Increasing utilization even slightly can have a signifi cant impact on the economics of the university.


But campuses across the spectrum struggle to improve classroom utilization. Classrooms are almost universally underutilized during off peak hours (mornings, evenings, and Fridays) and are commonly overutilized during peak hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday). Irregular schedules, mismatches between class size and room size, and departmental control of scheduling further reduce utilization, leading faculty on many campuses to perceive a shortage of classroom space even as overall utilization rates remain low.

Classroom Space-The Critical Capacity Driver

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Enrollment Growth Drives Increase in Classroom Space

In contrast to offi ce space, most of the growth in classroom space was due to increasing enrollment rather than an increase in the amount of classroom space per student.

Enrollment Growth Drives Increase in Classroom Space

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Every Space Category Growing in Real Terms

Space has increased not only in the aggregate but also on a per student basis. Over the past 30 years, colleges and universities have increased the amount of space across every category faster than they have grown enrollment.

Comparable data on higher education facilities are diffi cult to fi nd. The facing chart compares data from two different surveys. The 1976 fi gures come from a federal government survey of U.S. higher education institutions. The 2007 data are from a more limited survey by the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). While not precisely comparable, they do provide a general sense of the growth in space on campus. The chart shows mean net assignable square feet (NASF) per student for each type of space on campus (using the standard defi nitions). All categories of space increased, but some increased more than others. Residential space remains the largest share of overall space on campus. Offi ce and laboratory space are still the two next most important, with offi ce space growing significantly faster than laboratory space. Parking/support space rose from one of the smallest shares to the fourth most important.

Every Space Category Growing in Real Terms

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Office Space-The Low Hanging Fruit

Office space has only recently become a focus for space utilization efforts as its share of campus expands rapidly. Despite the political sensitivities around assigning faculty offi ce space, it can be a great pilot project for introducing rational space management practices.


Office space has quietly come to dominate many campuses, driven not only by the growth in administrative staff and faculty but also by widely varying standards and politically-driven space assignment practices. Office space can be a useful area to launch new space management practices because standards are relatively easy to defi ne, they do not vary signifi cantly by discipline, and once implemented, they can free up significant amounts of space for higher value activities.

Office Space-The Low Hanging Fruit

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Office Space--The Surprise Culprit

Office space and parking/support drove the growth in space, signifi cantly increasing their share of all campus space. Residential, general, classroom, and library space all declined in share (though they increased in absolute terms).

Using the data from the previous page, one can calculate how much each type of space has increased or decreased as a share of all space on campus. All types of space increased on a per student basis, but some increased faster than others, growing their share of total space. Office space clearly outpaced all other types of space, going from 13.2 percent to 20 percent of all space. Parking/support was the other major driver. Athletic/special space increased its share modestly (despite the concerns in the press about the student amenities arms race). The space categories most closely linked to the academic mission—laboratories, libraries, and classrooms—all held their share constant or lost share.

Office Space--The Surprise Culprit

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Picking Our Battles

While each type of space represents important challenges, our research focused on the three types of space that are the most important drivers of academic quality, overall financial performance, and administrative time—classrooms, offices, and laboratories.



From an academic affairs perspective, the most important types of space are classroom, laboratory, and offices (for both faculty and staff). Growing enrollment, adding faculty, and increasing research funding all depend on managing these spaces well, and managing each of these spaces requires the cooperation of the faculty. Other campus spaces, such as residential, athletic, parking, and student centers, are often self-funding or managed differently from core academic spaces and require a different set of management techniques.

Picking Our Battles

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The Limiting Factor on Research Excellence

Laboratories are often the most expensive facilities on any campus and a critical factor in attracting top faculty and supporting world-class research. Yet few universities base laboratory space assignment decisions on space productivity data.


In an ideal world, research space would be allocated (at least in part) based on research productivity, with those researchers whose productivity declines giving up some of their space to more productive researchers. A number of factors complicate this approach to the assignment of laboratory space. First of all, few institutions track investigator-level data on research space productivity, and even those that do run into the problem of comparing productivity across disciplines with very different funding streams and space needs. Secondly, even at institutions that have the data to make space allocation decisions, actually reassigning laboratory space is an expensive and time-consuming process. Most laboratory space is not easily sharable or reconfi gurable and can be very expensive to renovate.

The Limiting Factor on Research Excellence

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What is Driving the Office Space Boom?

Office space grew faster than any other category of space over the past 30 years, with increasing offi ce sizes a larger factor than simply the growth in the number of administrators and faculty.


Using survey data on the average amount of offi ce space per student and IPEDS data on the total number of students in 1974 and 2007, we have calculated rough estimates for the total amount of office space in higher education in those two years. In 1974, there were approximately 734 K faculty and staff at colleges and universities and a total of about 174 M square feet of office space. By 2007, there were 1.6 M faculty and staff, but office space had increased even faster than the number of people requiring offices.

What is Driving the Office Space Boom?

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The End of the Building Boom

The Utilization Cost Savings Opportunity