Attracting Students Through Memorable Designs

by Jeff Martin
Farnsworth Group, Inc.

One way colleges and universities are distinguishing themselves is through a continued focus on campus beautification efforts.

As another academic year approaches, high school students and their parents are beginning the process of deciding which college or university to attend. Brochures are paged through, websites are reviewed and visits are planned to decide where the next four years will be spent.

Today, there are more kids considering college than at any time in the past. Over the last three decades, college enrollment rates increased from 26 percent to 41 percent. In addition, the influx of foreign students seeking advanced degrees in the U.S. continues to grow. In the last decade alone, the number of foreign students studying in the U.S. has grown by 40 percent.

As these numbers continue to swell, colleges and universities are looking for ways to distinguish themselves in the academic marketplace to attract these students. These institutions know that without a proper focus on attracting and retaining students, these students will simply go elsewhere. One way colleges and universities are trying to distinguish themselves is with a continued focus on campus beautification efforts, from new buildings and facilities to physical improvements to their grounds. These institutions realize that millennials—and just as importantly, their parents—are naturally attracted to memorable campuses.

The Western Brand
To maintain or even increase the recruitment of students to its Macomb campus, Western Illinois University has undertaken a variety of initiatives. These efforts include the standard fare of website makeovers, new taglines and other marketing initiatives—all aimed at capturing the attention of potential new students. The university also realized it needed to better extend its brand throughout campus to assist in its recruitment efforts.

Working closely with Farnsworth Group’s Peoria team of planners, landscape architects, engineers and architects, visible changes have been occurring that create memorable places and reinforce the Western brand in ways both subtle and overt. The most obvious enhancement is the Grand Entry, which greets visitors as they arrive to the Macomb campus. Part of an overall master plan for the main gateway into campus, the sign has already become woven into its fabric. To extend the Western brand and identity into this significant new feature, designers studied the architecture of historic Sherman Hall, infusing the Grand Entry with cues from the building. Quoins, brick reveals, a reinvigorated “W” logo and a replica granite sphere are all found on or immediately adjacent to Sherman Hall. Finished in the late fall of 2013, it was immediately recognized as a success when the following spring, graduates made pilgrimages to the Grand Entry to capture a final, memorable photograph.

Other changes underway at Western are creating memorable places that help to recruit and retain students. An Anamosa limestone wall with an illuminated “Western” sign greets alumni as they return to campus and visit the Alumni House. A new parking lot with various branding elements has been built in preparation for the construction of the $60-million Center for Performing Arts. Where Wetzel Hall once stood, a new park space with a council ring gathering space provides a quiet refuge while subtly reinforcing the Western brand through its use of materials that coordinate with other spaces throughout campus.

The Wesleyan Experience
Private colleges and universities find themselves in the same position. While generally smaller than public universities, private colleges are often known for their idyllic and charming campuses. Historic brick buildings, leafy quadrangles and cozy residence halls are the norm. In addition to their excellent academic credentials, students are also attracted to smaller private schools for the unique “experience” they provide. Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington prides itself on its rigorous academic standards, attractive grounds and the experience students receive during their time on campus. Ensuring that the Wesleyan experience is maintained and continually improved upon, IWU is continually making upgrades throughout its campus. Over the past 20 years, the school has undertaken significant construction projects, including the Shirk Center for Athletics and Recreation, the Ames Library, and most recently, State Farm Hall.

During the construction of State Farm Hall, a unique opportunity to further enhance the campus experience presented itself. The city-owned Beecher Street, which bisects the northern half of campus, would be permanently closed to traffic and deeded over to the university. Additionally, a private donor had approached the university, wanting to assist in a significant campus beautification effort. Recognizing the opportunity, the university turned to Farnsworth Group to determine what should become of this former street. Its team of planners and landscape architects devised a master plan that converted the former street into a 15-foot wide, tree-lined pedestrian promenade, punctuated by brick gateway columns at each end.

In the open lawn area adjacent to the promenade, a large water sculpture named Aspiration by internationally-renowned sculptor Giles Rayner was fabricated and located on a plinth designed by Farnsworth Group. On June 30, 2015, the pedestrian promenade and the lawn area that contains Aspiration were officially dedicated as the Egbers Quadrangle, in honor of alumnus Gary Egbers. The Egbers Quadrangle seamlessly weaves into this charming campus, giving visitors the appearance it has always been part of the Wesleyan experience.

Both Western Illinois University and Illinois Wesleyan University have made significant efforts in beautifying their campuses, extending their brand image and reinforcing the overall campus experience. This forward-thinking approach is vital in the ongoing recruitment of students in an ever-competitive academic marketplace. iBi

Jeff Martin, PLA is a planner and landscape architectural manager in Farnsworth Group’s Peoria office.

 


Source URL: https://www.peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2015/aug/attracting-students-through-memorable-designs