How do you take a campus without a vibrant student life to the next level of engagement?
Often the answer is in the spaces where students interact outside the classroom. Such was the solution Texas Christian University found in the creation of Campus Commons, a massive student life project completed in 2008.
So why am I talking about it now, six year later? New research conducted by KSQ Architects and Biddison Hier shows the project has had a tremendous impact on student life, engagement and satisfaction, and David Short (KSQ), Craig Allen (TCU), Don Mills (TCU) and I shared the results of this research in February at SWACUHO (Southwest Association of College & University Housing Officers).
By the mid 1990s, administrators at TCU knew they wanted more for their student life–starting with housing a higher percentage of their students. For TCU, the answer took on this shape: take the giant parking lot in the center of campus and turn it into a residential quad complete with a student union and massive outdoor space for more student interaction.
Turns out, they were onto something.
Focus groups I conducted in both 1995 and in 2005 showed students wanted more in terms of quality housing, dining options and hours, and cocurricular activities. They left campus in the evenings and on the weekends because, simply put, there was nothing to do.
Convinced the center of campus (and across the street from the football stadium) was the right place to establish Campus Commons, the TCU/KSQ/Biddison Hier team’s plan included moving parking to the edges of campus–a fairly radical idea. In fact, we surmised, students would need their cars less if they were engaged in campus activities more.
The result of this vision and planning is now TCU’s most magnetic campus venue and a potent recruiting tool for the university. When our team conducted more student focus groups in late 2013 to get a sense of the impact this project has had on campus life, we heard things like, “Campus Commons is where everything happens,” and “It’s the physical representation of the sense of family and community that makes TCU so special.”
In fact, the transformation is so compelling, we made a short video that helps tell the story:
Here are 6 tips our team gave to chief housing officers at SWACUHO:
- Have strong decision-making skills–top administrators need a clear vision and plan for how to make it happen.
- Expand your thinking–TCU’s vision went beyond beds and buildings to include creating a special space where student life could happen.
- Trust the experts–consultants bring specialized experience, knowledge and insight to make the project better than you at first imagined.
- Understand your campus–be a learning organization who always talks to your students to assess their wants and needs.
- Include a wide range of voices–TCU took a collaborative approach to planning Campus Commons.
- Have a funding plan–while good design doesn’t have to be expensive, every project has a price. Think outside the box at ways you can fund your dream (student fees, bonds, donor support, etc).
Four residence halls housing 600+ students and a new student union surround a massive green space that is twice the length of a football field. The enclosed space is the venue, according to students for “everything going on at TCU.”
From fun and games to sunny naps, graduation photo ops and impromptu guitar solos, a lot is always happening at TCU’s Campus Commons. All of us involved in the planning, design and implementation of the project are truly proud to have contributed to this transformative campus life project.