Mastering Campus Space Planning: 7 Essential Steps

Flexible learning environments, space optimization, cost management, sustainability, demographic shifts, health and wellness…

These are just some of the main challenges that you, the Higher Ed space planner be it facilities manager or academic administrator are striving to juggle with these days.

The solution? Making efficient, effective, strategic campus space planning decisions.

And here’s how you can master the art of strategic (aka data-driven) space planning of the university campus in 7 steps.


  • Efficient campus space planning in higher education is crucial due to evolving challenges such as changing demographics, technology, and pedagogical approaches. 
  • Key steps to master data-driven space planning include setting measurable goals, aligning with institutional objectives, adopting technology for flexibility, monitoring utilization data, defining resources for optimization, and continuous revision.
  • Trends for 2023 and beyond focus on sustainability, optimized space utilization, flexible and collaborative spaces, continuous data collection, accommodating flexible work, and redesigning learning spaces for student-centric experiences. 
  • The ultimate goals are to maximize space usage, maintain flexibility, and prioritize sustainability to adapt to a rapidly changing educational landscape.

Campus Space Planning in Schools & Universities

Campus space planning is the process of allocating and managing the physical spaces on educational campuses.

A 3-step process that involves:

  • analyzing the current space needs
  • assessing the future on-campus space requirements
  • optimizing and allocating the needed spaces to best accommodate the needs of the students, the staff, faculty, and the wider community

Strategic campus space planning, on the other hand which is more data-driven aligns with the educational institution's long-term objectives.

Meaning that it evolves and adjusts in response to the changing ways in which students, faculty, and staff work, learn, and teach over time.

And it’s the facility manager’s responsibility/challenge to determine how to best use the available space.

So that it accommodates all the needed facilities, services, educational and working needs of the staff and students using it.

As well as all the cost and efficiency requirements...


Why Is Campus Space Planning Pivotal for Modern Education Organizations?

Because of the new normal changing student demographics, new technologies, new pedagogies that modern education organizations need to cope with, and adapt to.

Which has forced them to reconsider their approach to campus space planning.

And to switch from the traditional “the larger the campus the better” type of mindset to a more agile, cost-effective, and flexible approach to campus space planning.

The type of approach that enables them to:

  • achieve a more sustainable campus design
  • design a space that meets the students’ present needs AND is flexible enough to accommodate all future changes, too
  • avoid an identity crisis when faced with the new normal

Speaking of which…

Unpredictable On-Campus Attendance

This is probably one of the most visible challenges that higher ed organizations need to deal with.

Strategic campus planning can help in resolving this.

With mental health, the rising cost of living, and the convenience of online classes, students don’t see the need to spend that much time on campus since the pandemic.

And yet this is where the unpredictability comes in a growing number of students have come to realize that higher education is more than attending physical classes.

It’s also about the experience of building connections and creating memories in person.

But you need to spend time on campus to build those types of memorable connections.

Which leads to the need for a more agile campus space planning approach. Capable of accommodating this level of unpredictability.

Plummeting Staff Retention

Ever-increasing workload and longer hours, the higher ed institutions’ (still) rigid policies around remote and flexible work, dissatisfaction with salaries…

These are just the top 3 causes of the staff retention crisis in colleges and universities.

And designing flexible on-campus workspaces won’t come as a panacea for all staff retention challenges in higher ed institutions.

But it will surely be a big step in these institutions adjusting their workplace practices to keep pace with higher education employees’ new expectations.

With the new ways of thinking and working.

Declining Enrollment

Another critical challenge that higher education organizations need to address through more strategic space planning is the lower number of students enrolling in higher education.

Stats show that there have been 4.9% fewer post-secondary students from 2019 to 2021 (the most severe decline in enrolment since 1951).

And that college enrollment has dropped by 9.8% since 2010.

With declining birth rates, the rise of online (or hybrid) learning, growing ethnic diversity, and a growth in the number of international students being the key factors responsible for this new reality that higher ed institutions need to adapt to.

Diversity & Inclusion Considerations

Colleges and universities are forced to start looking at campus space planning through the lenses of inclusion, diversity, and equity.

As their student base has grown more diverse, including now more ethnic minorities, and disabled or disadvantaged students.

This means that they must consider (re)designing a campus space that accommodates the needs of its increasingly diverse student base. 


Campus Space Planning: 7 Essential Steps

Now that we’ve identified the major challenges higher ed organizations are forced to adapt their space planning strategies to, let’s delve into the steps that you, the campus facility manager, can take to strategically plan the campus space and address these challenges. 

1. Set Smart Space Planning Goals

Where “smart” stands for “measurable”.

And here are 3 types of such smart goals to consider setting:

  • Downsize the total campus real estate to reduce operating costs. And make the spaces around the campus more sustainable, more… efficient

  • Boost the utilization rate of collaboration spaces (ideally by at least 20%)

Repurpose the existing campus space: the measurable goals to set can range from carrying out space renovation projects over the next 3-5 years to diversifying and making the current study programs with on-campus learning more attractive for students

2. Align Institutional Organizational Goals With Space Planning Objectives

This alignment will create the best framework for measuring the performance and success of those smart space goals that you will have set.

Is your higher ed organization stating a certain mission, certain values, and strategic goals on its website?

By aligning them with specific space planning guidelines you get to turn them from abstract notions into tangible, concrete campus spaces.

Here are just some examples of aligning your space planning strategy with your higher ed institution’s strategy:

  • Designing flexible, student-centric learning spaces that encourage connections and integrate technology, will help deliver that outstanding academic experience communicated on the university’s website.

  • Using the same accessibility framework for redesigning all current campus spaces and for planning out future ones will turn all those values of inclusion, equality, and diversity into more palpable experiences around the campus.

  • Designing classrooms and learning spaces that promote cross-departmental collaboration, brainstorming, and creativity aligns with the university's mission to foster a “culture of innovation” 

  • Creating a campus design that shapes its identity into a space for study AND relaxation, with a focus on exposure to green spaces, aligns with the institution’s objective to prioritize student well-being.

3. Adopt the Right Technology


An ever-increasing demand for flexibility.

  • Flexible work planning
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Flexible campus
  • Flexible work environment

More flexibility is the challenge that a classroom booking technology like YAROOMS will help you address. 

It helps you accommodate university staff’s growing expectations for (more) flexible working. And address the challenge of plummeting staff retention.

How exactly? A workplace technology like YAROOMS enables them to book classrooms, learning spaces, desks, campus resources, and facilities and plan out their days at the campus on the go.

Anytime, anywhere.

And it helps you meet your own campus space planning goal of maximizing the usage of the existing campus space, along with its resources.

See the platform in action - Watch the 3-Minute Demo Tour

4. Establish Uniform Processes

Overlapping meetings, abandoned reservations, double booking a room…

These are 3 of the most common results of juggling with different booking processes across separate departments in your higher ed organization.

Each one with its own administrative staff responsible for its internal room booking and scheduling processes.

And this is the type of challenge that Columbia University itself was facing.

The solution? Uniform processes across your entire campus.

And YAROOMS, the desk and room booking system, has helped them implement a common approach to their campus space planning and management.

How exactly?

  • It offered them a single classroom booking  and work scheduling hub for ALL their end users

  • … one that enables them to find and book a room anywhere around the Columbia University campus anytime, anywhere.

5. Monitor Campus Space Utilization Data

Keeping a close eye on how the campus space is being used helps you identify utilization patterns and trends.

Which will eventually help you, the campus facility manager:

  • set your measurable (and attainable) goals
  • identify underused spaces and space repurposing opportunities
  • anticipate how the space will be used in the future
  • anticipate the type of new (or newly repurposed) spaces you’ll be needing in the future

Here are the campus space utilization data you’ll want to monitor at different periods:

  • The ratio between the use of collaborative vs individual spaces and areas around the campus and between rarely used areas and those at close to their capacity

  • The low utilization rate of various staff workspaces, such as cubicles, individual workstation areas, or meeting rooms

  • The classrooms where classes usually end earlier or after the allotted time.

6. Define the Resources Needed for Space Optimization

You’re at that step in your strategic campus space planning process where you:

  • have your roadmap, pointing you exactly where your space planning should be going

  • know how to get there: you have your space utilization trends and patterns pinpointed and you have your space repurposing opportunities identified

Now it’s time you made your list of all the resources you need for optimizing your existing campus space.

Resources like:

  • physical space
  • real-time utilization data
  • tools and equipment needed for refurbishing and repurposing underused spaces you’ve identified
  • technology for flexible working and room/resources booking, personnel…

7. Rinse & Repeat

The way people use campuses these days is no longer as comfortably predictable as it used to be.

Without a data-driven approach to identify space optimization opportunities and predict how the space around the campus will be used in the future, campus space planning is no more than a guessing game.

That’s why it’s critical for you to:

  • monitor your real-time data on space utilization constantly
  • revisit all the previous 6 steps until they no longer work and you realize you need to reconsider and readjust your approach 

How to Measure Campus Space Utilization?

30%-60% of campus space is underutilized these days.

Do you know exactly HOW much of the campus space you’re managing is underutilized?

How can you know for sure?

It’s simple: you measure your campus space utilization. With workplace technology. Like YAROOMS.

With access to sharp workplace analytics, you get a clear insight into:

  • the average campus space utilization
  • the spaces and areas around the campus where people tend to gather and spend most of their time (the most unpopular ones among staff and students)
  • the number of no shows 

In short, YAROOMS campus space utilization report provides you with real-time data on campus behavior and class attendance.

The type of data you can use to measure campus space utilization.

And to optimize that space accordingly.

Schedule a demo

Who Owns the Campus Space Planning Process?

The facility manager.

The one responsible for integrating campus space, processes, people, and technology to optimize the student and staff experience around the campus.

Which usually calls for a reevaluation of traditional campus space planning.

A role that has become increasingly important in higher ed organizations, particularly since the new normals/challenges they’re forced to adapt to:

  • Lower student enrolment
  • The need to grow in more attractive and relevant offerings while also leaving a smaller environmental footprint
  • Cost pressures
  • Lower staff retention

The role/mission of a facility manager as well as the reason for this role’s growing importance in the world of higher education comes down to delivering the right campus experience.

While meeting costs and sustainability goals.

He/she is the one who, through strategic campus space planning, can help the higher ed institution:

  • stand out from its peers in the growingly intense “quest” for students
  • meet its competing goals of growing its academic offerings while becoming more sustainable and cost-effective
  • provide an engaging, comfortable, and sustainable environment for students and staff in the campus buildings.


Campus Space Planning Trends for 2023 and Beyond

Mastering campus space planning (also) means making accurate predictions about:

  • how much space needs to be allocated and where
  • how much space should be repurposed or better optimized 
  • how many new facilities should be created

And here keeping up with the trends becomes as critical as monitoring the space utilization real-time data.

Here are 6 such trends you’ll want to keep an eye on:

Higher Ed Starts Prioritizing Sustainability

And an ever-growing number of students stated they considered the environmental impact when choosing the higher ed institution to enroll themselves in.

Therefore, expect colleges and universities to move sustainable development goals (SDG) at the top of their priority lists.

And to set themselves apart from their peers as institutions with low environmental footprints, they’ll need to collect, monitor, and analyze hard data on all the factors that make up for their footprint: cooling, accessibility, heating, and energy data.

Campus Space Hoarding Collides with the Optimal Use of the Campus Space

Space hoarding, which is in the DNA of the higher ed world, will start to be more and more targeted.

As it doesn’t align with the higher ed organizations’ goal of maximizing the use of the available campus space.

Again, hard data will be crucial for identifying exactly who needs a given space on the campus.

And who doesn’t.

There’s a Growing Demand for Flexible and Collaborative Space

Flexible work schedules, remote and hybrid work, and new uses of spaces are the new normals that call for new types of space.

From cubicles, offices, and desks – and overall, from the well-defined workspaces – we’ll witness a shift to more collaborative, flexible spaces. To collaboration hubs.

With couches, whiteboards, and tablets.

Higher Ed Institutions Move to a Continuous Collection of Space Utilization Data

More transparency, more efficiency, and more historical data overlays for comparison.

This is what a continuous data model helps higher ed institutions achieve compared to collecting one-time space utilization data once every few years. Data that becomes outdated quickly.

And this is why you should expect continuous collection of data occupancy data to grow into a major trend in 2023 and beyond.

Higher Ed Is Relocating Space to Meet Growing Demand for Flexwork

Expect more and more campus space planning strategies to be tailored so they support a hybrid work environment.

Higher ed staff’s appetite for flexwork will continue to grow, especially in roles that are not so much dependent on community engagement: the knowledge-based roles.

To overcome the staff retention crisis, colleges and universities must adapt their spaces to this trend.
And redesign their allocation of their campus space.

Learning Spaces Redesign Around the Student (Not the Tutor’s) Experience


Well, because of the 1st obvious reason: lowering student enrolment rate.

And because of the 2nd obvious reason: the current traditional lecture halls and other learning spaces ignore the learning process and students’ unique learning needs and styles.

They don’t stir discussions among students.

New learning spaces, redesigned for project-based learning, centered on the students’ experiences, and redesigned around their need to collaborate more easily will be the new norm in the years to come.

A campus space planning trend that’ll come to complement the one of shifting from single-purpose buildings and classrooms to multi-purpose ones.

Where there’s a blurred line between outdoor and indoor

Or between the world inside the (now) smaller campus and the one outside the campus.

Wrapping Up

In the end, mastering campus space planning today comes down to 3 major goals:

  • Collecting and leveraging real-time space utilization data to maximize the campus space available and downsize campus real estate if needed

  • Achieving and keeping a flexible approach to space optimization: that huge, too often deserted lecture hall can always turn into another type of learning space (or into several of them)

  • Prioritizing sustainability goals to aim for net zero status and minimize environmental footprint

Topics: Facility management

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