We can’t say enough about the importance of community colleges. There are more than 900 community colleges across the US, with as many as 800 serving rural communities that might otherwise have little access to higher education. Though enrollment took a hard hit in 2020 and 2021, we see genuine potential for community colleges to emerge from the pandemic and rebuild their on-campus communities.
One of the key components of this recovery will be an emphasis on facilities management programs that address the unique circumstances of community colleges and their students.
What’s special about community colleges?
While community colleges provide education and workforce training to millions of students every year, these valuable institutions don’t always receive the credit they deserve.
Pre-pandemic, community colleges typically offered a range of “wraparound services” in addition to classroom programs, helping vulnerable students access healthcare, childcare, internet, and even basics like food, housing, and other public assistance.
Despite budgets that are tighter than ever, community colleges have continued to support their communities during the pandemic with services such as:
- Offering accelerated education for nursing and other healthcare students
- Lending dormitories to traveling healthcare workers
- Utilizing fabrication facilities to produce personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Providing community Wi-Fi in campus parking lots
- Hosting food banks
- Serving as COVID vaccination and testing sites
Face-to-face contact make the difference
The nature of these services is important to note. Like all higher ed institutions, community colleges connect most effectively with their students in person, on campus.
Unlike traditional colleges and universities, however, community colleges enroll a much higher percentage of students facing economic or social challenges, such as first-generation college students or those living in remote rural areas. When campuses are closed and classrooms are empty, these students are more likely to disenroll from school altogether, rather than shift to online learning or to another higher ed institution.
We’ve seen this play out in community colleges across the country, where COVID-related declines in enrollment have outpaces those in traditional undergraduate programs by a significant margin.
The campus experience becomes far more important, then, for community colleges hoping to attract and retain students.
How facilities management can help
The on-campus experience is important to the success of any educational institution but is perhaps the cornerstone for community colleges.
Clean, safe, appealing campus environments that support in-person learning are more likely to bolster enrollment at community colleges. That optimized campus environment relies not just on expert custodial, grounds, and maintenance programs, but on cost-effective partnership – because budget constraints will most likely continue for some time. Most of all, community colleges need a facilities team that knows there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for these diverse campus environments.
Two campuses, different needs
For example, Oklahoma City Community College’s physical campus consists of 22 buildings on approximately 160 acres, with two off-campus locations. The buildings total 1,063,958 square feet of learning facilities. More than 18,500 students are enrolled there.
By comparison, Lansing Community College spans six locations across the mid-Michigan area, totaling more than 1.5 million square feet of learning facilities. They serve more than 23,000 students each year.
Though these two schools both offer excellent educational opportunities, the variations in location, size, and enrollment numbers mean different priorities within their facilities programs. Add in more unique aspects of the two schools – academic specialties, historic buildings or documents, research spaces, and athletic facilities, for instance – and it’s clear that the right facilities program will blend real-world experience with a healthy dose of collaboration and partnership.
What to look for when choosing a facilities management provider
A dedicated facilities management team looks at each client as an extension of themselves. Make sure your facilities partner demonstrates a purposeful duty to create a safe environment on your campus and does everything possible to ensure team members go home each night free from work-related injuries.
Employing safe on-campus practices requires diligence in observing, training, and coaching. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential provider how much training team members receive each year.
For instance, each HES team member spends an average of 77 hours per year in training. Through leadership opportunities, career advancement, and recognition for work well done, our team members are encouraged to bring their best selves to your campus. This continuous professional education empowers them to make the best decisions for your campus.
Seek out a provider who understands that the success of your learning environment is strengthened by each facilities team member. Onsite team members should be ambassadors of your institution, creating a personal connection on campus and supporting faculty, staff, and security.
Work with the right facilities management team
Want to know more about building a better facilities program for your community college? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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