Multicampus Planning: Behind the Scenes

Multicampus Planning: Behind the Scenes

How four institutions solved their branch campus scheduling and transportation challenges
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ONE HARDLY NEEDS TO BE A SPACE or transportation planning expert to realize this: Having classes and services on more than one campus presents logistical challenges. Which faculty and staff should be based at the “other” campus? What classes should be held there? What transportation programs are needed? How do you ensure that those heading over there for class don’t miss too much on the main campus because of the travel time?

College Avenue is a busy place for the Rutgers intercampus bus and shuttle system, which is tied closely to student class schedules.

Cecilia Rivers, president of the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators, says class scheduling and space utilization can certainly be issues. Situations where cooperative partnerships exist between administrators on both campuses are best, adds Rivers, also assistant vice president of Western Region Campuses of the University of Central Florida.

When a branch campus doesn’t have a full range of facilities, it can seem an undesirable location. “There’s always the issue of keeping people tied back to the main campus,” says Daniel Paulien, president of Paulien & Associates in Denver, which works with colleges and universities on facilities planning, including the use of space. Yet sometimes faculty and staff reluctant to be based on the other campus admit later to liking where they’re at.

Here’s how four institutions with multiple campuses approached their individual multicampus space and transportation issues.

In fall 2007, Binghamton’s University Downtown Center opened a few miles from the main campus. But the work for Michelle Ponczek, director of space planning resources, began long before that. Administrators had decided the 74,400-square-foot facility could help solve a space problem on the main campus?three-hour classes taking up multiple time blocks and leaving empty classrooms on some days. By holding nearly all three-hour classes downtown, space on the main campus could be maximized. And students, as well as faculty based on the main campus, might only have to head downtown weekly.

Ponczek used SAS software to analyze course data from the registrar and fit three-hour courses into the standard meeting period times on each day of the week?so students traveling downtown would miss as few class periods back on the main campus as possible.

Officials decided that the College of Community and Public Affairs would be based at the Downtown Center, which includes 11 classrooms, conference areas, offices, a library/computer pod, a lounge, and a coffee kiosk. While some faculty expressed concern about being located there, the new facility and downtown location sounded great to others, Ponczek says.

David Husch, director of Off Campus College and the administrative liaison to Binghamton’s student-run bus system, had to ensure students who live on or near campus (including in a newer student apartment complex located between the University Center and main campus) could get downtown and then back to campus 10 minutes prior to the start time of the next period’s class. “The idea is that they will only miss the meet time before and meet time after,” Ponczek says. Prior to the building’s opening, the dean’s office sent all students information on travel to and from the Downtown Center.

Initially buses ran every half hour, but they’ve increased to every 15 minutes, with two runs originating from the main campus, one of which swings by the apartments. The university’s 11-bus fleet could handle the new routes, Husch explains. Still, the contract with the bus system?which uses that fleet but is student-managed?had to be renegotiated to account for the extra gas, repairs, and driver time.

Husch’s advice about planning for a new branch campus: Start transportation planning early. “People who don’t have any knowledge of a bus system just think they can snap their fingers and say, ‘Let’s have a bus stop here,’” he explains. Those who don’t leave enough time for planning “are not going to be happy right off the bat.”

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, Southeast Missouri State acquired its River Campus property in the mid-1990s. By modifying the historic building that existed on the site (originally a seminary) and building a new structure, SEMO created an arts complex for the art, music, and theatre/dance departments, explains Gary Miller, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and the director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts. “All the students and faculty members in various arts disciplines [are] rubbing shoulders with each other. We used to be on central campus and in different buildings a block or two apart.”

About a year before the fall 2007 opening, Miller had scheduling worked out. The biggest space challenge was the need for most traditional classrooms in the morning. Later in the day, he says, “most arts students will be in rehearsal, in studio, or in concert.” Based on past enrollments, Miller estimated the number of students who would be at River Campus for every hour of the day up until 10 p.m.

Each academic department submitted the courses it would need and its preferred hours, and then Miller and his assistant created a schedule and checked for conflicts. “Once in a while we had to do some negotiating” with an arts department or with university administrators over, say, start times, says Miller. In spring 2009 one class had to be moved up to central campus.

Arts students are usually at River Campus much of the time. Those in other academic programs may have to take a shuttle down to River for a single course. A student survey helped determine how many students would likely be using the bus system. Miller then met with the Department of Public Safety to formulate routes. From 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., two buses run in each direction per hour.

A decision to allow anyone in town to ride for free “allowed us to get state department of transportation assistance in the financing and acquisition of buses,” Miller shares. Central campus already used smaller buses to connect its main part and athletics areas, but larger ones were needed based on anticipated use. For sold-out evening performances, the shuttles take patrons to downtown parking a few blocks away. As for prospective students, the River Campus facilities are “a tremendous recruiting tool,” Miller says, adding that the former seminary chapel, now a recital hall, is “breathtaking.”

Although George Mason has four campuses, it’s mainly the large traditional campus in Fairfax and the Prince William Campus, about 15 miles away and open since 1997, that could mean back and forth travel. Prince William’s 124 acres serve 4,000-plus students in four facilities with classrooms, labs, libraries, recreation areas, and other spaces. A performing arts center will open there in the spring.

The scheduling goal: Give students the chance to take more than one class on the same day at Prince William, explains Larry Czarda, assistant vice president for regional campuses. Students in the School of Recreation Health and Tourism tend to be at that campus nearly all of the time.

The location of Binghamton U?s Downtown Center helps students connect with the community and enjoy the city.

“We’ve invested heavily in shuttle systems,” Czarda says, with about $3 million being spent this year on a third-party contract. Shuttles (most of them with wireless access) leave hourly for Prince William. There’s also a partnership with the City of Fairfax CUE bus system, which students, staff, and faculty can ride for free.

Faculty who teach recreation and tourism, life sciences, nursing, or education split their time between Fairfax and Prince William or are based solely at Prince William, Czarda explains. A hassle? Not necessarily. “Some people really like teaching on multiple campuses,” he says. Yet not everyone can be expected to feel that way. “Some believe the core vibrancy of our main campus in Fairfax is where they need to be at all times,” he adds.

As for prospective students?particularly those considering a major where a split between campuses is likely?the model can be an admissions office hurdle, Czarda acknowledges. But once they try out the shuttle, which tends to take about 20 minutes, “they see the facilities and classrooms and computer labs, and that concern dissipates quickly.”

With 40 buses running on 10 routes to connect four Rutgers campuses, a GPS on each bus, and digital signage at each stop to communicate the next arrival, this bus and shuttle system is probably as intricate as a campus system could get. “It’s a mass transit system, a subway on wheels,” says Jack E. Molenaar, director of transportation services.

Classes on each campus used to start and end at the same time. But students only had 20 minutes to get to other campuses. Since fall 2005, a staggered schedule has solved that. “The shortest time difference now is 55 minutes,” he says. First period begins at 8:10 on the College Avenue/Downtown New Brunswick campus, 8:40 at both Bush and Livingston, and 9:15 at Cook/Douglass.

Besides making students’ lives a bit less hectic, the schedule reduces traffic. “We went from six major peaks of traffic coming in to 18 mini-peaks,” Molenaar says. Most bus rides, depending on traffic, are 20 minutes or less.

One reason the system works is the new zone parking. Students purchase a pass that allows for parking only in a certain area. They park once and then ride the bus the rest of the day. Molenaar sells only the number of permits matching the number of parking spots on a particular campus, and those caught in the wrong zone get socked with a $50 ticket. (After 8 p.m., student residents can park at other campuses.) “The whole system is based on the buses,” he says. “We would have to build more parking decks if not for the buses.”

NextBus uses each bus’s GPS to provide real-time information on when the (you guessed it) next bus will arrive. The signage can also be used for campus communication during inclement weather or emergencies, and users can access the information via the internet or phone. The service was implemented in 2006, and questions and complaints have dropped by 70 percent since then, Molenaar says.

In addition, security cameras allow dispatchers to view every stop and to call in any problems. The ability to track arrivals has also cut back on “Was the bus really late?” inquiries from professors hearing that excuse. And Molenaar can track ridership and add more buses or take away stops as necessary. It’s all about efficiency.

A private company owns the bus fleet and has a 10-year contract for up to $8 million a year. To keep driver quality in check, some students are paid to ride and report back on whether, for instance, the driver is talking on a cell phone or not making announcements of each stop. Drivers know exactly when they’re supposed to be at each stop, and “if they’re more than 10 minutes late or early [without a reported reason], then we don’t pay for the loop,” Molenaar says. “Since we did that, the buses aren’t bunching together anymore. Put a financial clause in there, and it’s amazing what happens.”

Faculty and staff are allowed to drive between campuses, but Molenaar says he forces himself to take the bus. “Many times it gets you closer to where you’re going.”


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