Landscaping Projects Improve Campus Appearance

By: Dave Jackson of The University of Iowa Facilities Services Group - June 1, 2002

A recent study of college-bound high school seniors who have selected or are in the process of selecting a school indicates that the most notable experiences seniors encounter on their best college visit have to do with the appearance of the campus and its facilities.
"This clearly underscores how important the efforts of facilities workers are to the academic mission of our nation’s institutes of higher education," says Kathryn Karford, a national consultant to higher education. Karford works for Noel-Levitz, a market research firm based in Iowa City.
The study, performed in December 2001, is the most recent to confirm a 1980’s Carnegie study which found that for 62 percent of prospective students, "appearance of the grounds and buildings was the most influential factor during a campus visit". The original report is called How Do Students Choose A College? and was prepared by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and published in the January/February 1986 issue of Change magazine.

Kathryn Karford "First impressions are critical," Karford added. "Students in focus groups regularly mention the campus appearance and condition of the facilities and grounds as one of the key factors in their decision to enroll."
The Noel-Levitz Market Research Study Campus visit expectations, experiences and impact on enrollment, was conducted with high school seniors in Georgia, Illinois, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Participating students were first surveyed about expectations of campus visits, and followed-up with open-ended questions about their experiences during their best campus visit. When asked what they noted during their best visit, seven of the top ten responses related to the appearance of the campus. Each of those categories relates directly to the efforts of those who perform facilities management work.
The top responses noted on best campus visit: clean, well-kept, orderly, nicely landscaped, notable architecture, layout, traffic/ease of access.
"Facilities workers are often overlooked in their recruitment contributions, and their work directly impacts the institution’s ability to attract and retain quality students," Karford said.
If you run down each of the top responses from "What students noted during their best campus visit," you begin to build a whole picture of the facilities services. Operations and Maintenance staff are the most visible in the campus landscaping, facilities operation and appearance.
Design and Construction Services staff, while seldom seen by students, provide highly visible results such as notable architecture.

*Note: Responses total greater than 100% due to multiple responses to open-ended questions, e.g. "clean" and "nicely landscaped".For more results from the 2002 Noel-Levitz market research study visit

Utility workers are perhaps the least seen and most taken for granted--however, their role in campus appearance is substantial. From lighting to providing resources for comfort control and generating electricity, their efforts result in a pleasing campus environment.
Campus Planning efforts are recognized in the layout of campus--which also weighed big with prospective students.
The work of facilities administrative and support staff is important in making it easier for others to do their work.
The study concluded that students who are "shopping" at more than one institution are even more critical of the campus atmosphere and facilities. Students who do not ultimately apply to their best visit institution are likely to cite difficulties they experienced during their visit, such as traffic, difficulty finding the admissions office, or other issues related to the overall "feel" of the campus.
The impressions of university staff also play a major role that ultimately lead to a decision whether or not to apply to the best visit institution. According to the report, best visits for students were where students felt welcome, comfortable and that staff were approachable, knowledgeable and friendly.
A summary of the study recommends: "From the moment a student sets foot on campus, an institution should make sure he or she feels welcome, can find the way easily, and that the campus is nicely landscaped, clean and appealing."
Campus visits are consistently among the top six methods for gathering information leading to enrollment decisions. The experience during the visit can have a tremendous impact on the student's decision to enroll. The objectives of the study of college-bound high school seniors were to discover:
  • number, purpose and types of visits
  • factors that led to the visit
  • their expectations of the visits
  • impact the visit had on their level of interest
  • the aspects of the "best visit"
  • demographic variables and differences in experiences

The study found that student expectations of the visit were mostly academic-related, and mentioned that more than any other single category. Of the rest of all other related categories combined, slightly more than half of the students were looking for visual, emotional or atmosphere-type features.
Of what was noted by students during their best visit, impressions of the physical appearance comprised the majority of responses.
As a personal interpretation, I am assuming that many students, by the time they visit a campus, have sorted out many of the academic questions related to admission requirements, availability of majors, etc., and once on campus are more likely to notice the physical aspects, form impressions, and comment on them. The fact that students mentioned the particular features, such as cleanliness, architecture, etc., in a follow-up study well after their actual visit indicates that visual impressions of the physical features of a campus stay with them, and for many take on a greater emotional image.
Other interesting notes about "BEST VISIT":
  • 67% applied to their "best visit" school
  • 61% included parent attendance
  • 26% included a friend
  • 8% visited alone
  • 36% occurred during open house
  • 44% during non campus-event day, and of those, 45% just "dropped by"

Students visiting two or more campuses first noticed items related to atmosphere more frequently than those visiting one campus. Those who visited two campuses were more likely to notice cleanliness. Those who visited three or more schools were more likely to have first noticed facilities on campus.
The Noel-Levitz study found that students spent an average of 3.6 hours on campus during their best visit. For those of us in the facilities business, what occurs during that 3.6 hours is a reflection of our ability to do what we do well, everyday, consistently, and with our image and vision at the center of our work. Those who are responsible for the day-to-day upkeep of campus and its appearance are vital to first impressions, both as a result of their work, and of their personal presentation. Friendliness of staff, the willingness to answer questions and give directions were major factors on student impressions during their visits.
The efforts of those involved in campus planning are also critical to student perceptions of the campus atmosphere, layout and accessibility issues. Campus "flow", traffic and difficulty finding facilities were areas often noted in reasons for not enrolling at the best visit school, especially for students who simply "drop by" for a visit. The Noel-Levitz study recommends special parking, detailed signage, information kiosks, and other improvements that would assist prospective students, especially those who do not make appointments.

Ole Miss head football coach Houston Nutt held his Signing Day Press Conference Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Indoor Practice Facility to discuss the Rebels' 2009 class.