While the COVID pandemic has disrupted the basics of campus life, the student desire for the college experience has never been higher. Here are some ways to manage the campus hospitality ecosystem to build demand for the on-campus experience and make it attractive to students and prospective students.
The pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of our life: office work, air travel, dining out, sporting events, fitness centers, family gatherings. The list goes on and on. While some change has been welcomed, such as the decline in daily commute time, the vast majority of change has been upending. Higher education and, in particular, the college campus lifestyle is no exception.
If you take the “life” out of college life, you are left with what some may think of as just college: A combination of academic programs, teachers and classrooms over time that culminate in a degree. No need to attend on campus if you can receive the same results from the security of your own bedroom, yes? As we ponder the full impact of the pandemic on college, we must take into consideration what is really important to the one stakeholder most affected today: that college student. Has the student dream of an exciting growth experience that leads to a better, more fulfilling life morphed into years spent staring at a laptop to receive a degree by mail? If you ask college students, and we did, the answer is a resounding no.
Here is what is really happening. While the pandemic has disrupted the basics of campus life, the student desire for the college experience had never been higher. Even though technology has enabled education from anywhere, this is not at all what students crave. Take out the on-campus experience, and students are unhappy. Really unhappy.
In fact, the opportunity to deliver a college experience has never been more of a necessity. Over the past year, the pandemic has forced college administrators and their partners to make decisions that optimize for safety at the expense of students’ desires and emotional needs.
Student emotions are being denied, albeit for good reasons. But forward-looking colleges are battling their way onward and upward. They are reinvigorating their campus around one basic tenet: Cultivating a student experience that delivers education within what we call a hospitality ecosystem.
What’s a hospitality ecosystem, and does my campus have one? Every campus already has its own unique ecosystem, whether it is actively managed or not. Universities are complex organisms, and their ecosystem incorporates all things community—things like campus traditions, dining and athletics. The ecosystem extends beyond the campus boundary to include local restaurants, retail outlets and members of the community. Maybe even some in-town raving school fans. Bottom line is that your campus ecosystem is in place already. The key now is to make it a competitive advantage.
The pandemic has challenged the hospitality of many daily experiences. Over time, the pandemic mantra of solving principally for safety will give way to a more holistic approach. Managing the hospitality ecosystem is the key to building demand for the on-campus experience, one that nurtures the university community, is attractive to prospective students and supports the journey to graduation.
So how do you actively engage to craft a compelling hospitality ecosystem? By focusing on what brings college to life: student emotions. Colleges must plan for the reinvigoration of campus by connecting with students on a visceral level.
Through a patented process, we are surveying students coast to coast about the value elements within the campus hospitality ecosystem. The results allow us to see which elements deliver on the emotions their students crave the most. While the emotional intensity differs on a campus-by-campus basis (as well as the solutions to each university), the emotional needs remain similar.
To read more about some of the macro insights we’ve garnered from those emotions, please visit the link below.