Campus Planning

We know the higher education campus can be more. More than laboratories that accommodate research. More than classrooms that hold students. More than buildings that store books. The campus can be nurturing. It can be inviting. It can be stimulating. It can be the physical manifestation of an institution’s mission, a reminder of the promise and potential waiting to be unleashed.

It can be more . . . with campus planning.

Why do it? Why integrated? Who does it?
When is it done? How is it done? Learn how.

What is campus planning?

Campus planning glossary outlines the long-term direction of a higher education institution’s physical and built environment. It ensures the highest and best use of land to meet a college or university’s academic, research, and outreach missions.

While campus planning occurs every day as an ongoing process, longer-range recommendations are often documented in a report called a campus master plan glossary or campus land use plan.

Campus planning covers:

  • Open space
  • Buildings
  • Non-motorized circulation (walking paths, bike lanes, etc.)
  • Motorized circulation (roads, public transportation access, etc.)
  • Utilities

Depending on the institution, it will either cover, inform, or coordinate with these initiatives:

Why do campus planning?

Colleges and universities are complex and constantly evolving their teaching, research, and community activities. This pressures campus systems to meet the needs of today with flexibility to address the unknown needs of the future. Without campus planning, development can occur haphazardly, resulting in a multitude of problems over time.

The campus plan should:

  • Align to the institution’s academic and strategic goals
  • Maximize use of critical resources
  • Incorporate smart growth planning principles
  • Enhance safety and wellness

Why is integrated planning important for campus planning?

The built environment is an important resource for carrying out the institution’s mission and recruiting students, faculty, and staff. Therefore, the campus master plan must align with the college’s or university’s strategic plan and academic plan. Creating and maintaining the physical environment requires a lot of resources itself, so integrated planning can prevent costly projects that don’t meet enrollment, learning, or research goals.

An integrated process builds consensus among each institution’s diverse stakeholders. This allows an institution to create a physical environment tailored to the institution’s mission, culture, and location.

Campus planning that is not integrated will not embrace the beauty of diversity, will conflict with and not complement supportive plans, and will fall short of providing the guidance required for institutional leadership to make sound decisions.

Who does campus planning?

Depending on the institution, campus planning will be led by external consultants or internal staff from the campus planning (or similar) department. Institutional employees are often organized into a steering committee and work groups that develop specific system recommendations (utilities, transportation, etc.).

The steering committee provides final guidance before recommendations are taken to institutional leadership for review and approval. Approval usually comes from the president or chancellor and governing board.

Campus planning requires multidisciplinary input from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, both internal (students, faculty, staff, etc.) and external (municipalities, neighbors, etc.). Who to involve will depend on institutional needs and project specifics. One key stakeholder is the host community, since campus systems extend beyond the campus boundary, integrating with neighboring communities (e.g., open space, roads, sidewalks, bicycle paths, utilities, and architectural patterns).

When is campus planning done?

A regularly updated plan provides institutional leadership with a valuable tool to make short- and long-range decisions regarding the built environment. While campus planning occurs on a daily basis, a comprehensive campus master plan glossary should be created regularly—five- and 10-year cycles are common.

Institutions that wait for a triggering event, like a large capital outlay approval and building boom, will find themselves challenged by schedule pressures to deliver a truly integrated and comprehensive plan. It’s better if those triggering events can be aligned to or incorporated into the institution’s existing campus master plan.

How is campus planning done?

Every student, employee, alumnus, visitor, and neighbor has ideas to improve the physical campus. The process needs to be inclusive, integrated, and interactive.

The campus planning process includes:

  • Identifying stakeholders
  • Leveraging conversations with multiple stakeholders
  • Building consensus through common understanding
  • Balancing opportunities, constraints, and competing demands to identify the best use of campus resources
  • Outlining a flexible framework for physical development
Author: Stephen Troost, Campus Planner, Michigan State University; SCUP Campus Planning Academy Member

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