Orlando, Fla. — Norbert Dunkel, associate vice president for student affairs for the University of Florida, delivered the keynote speech at the InterFace On-Campus Housing Conference Nov. 6.
His goal for the talk, titled, “The Institutional and Developer Perspectives of Student Housing,” was to highlight the strengths and areas for improvement on both sides of the public-private divide. He surveyed 50 housing officers for comments, asking them, in essence, if you were in a room full of developers, what would you ask?
Housing is a major contributor to recruitment, retention and graduation, Dunkel said, and housing operations that incorporate the academic experience into the residential setting will be the housing operations that succeed in the future. Dunkel outlined what a private partner wants from a college or university, chiefly access to decision-makers — the correct person in the right department. “Don’t start the relationship by taking the president to golf,” he said. “Have as close a relationship to the institution as you can. The more relationships you can have to operations and management, the better. We think you want to work with a minimum number of people, preferably one.” He added, however, that on large campuses, there are numerous entities that must be involved. He also noted that developers typically want quick responses to questions.
On the flipside, Dunkel outlined what an institution wants from public-private partnership. These desires include a long-term relationship. “We want to know that you’re totally committed,” he said. “We want to know you’re going to be there when the building is done.”
Institutions also want their developer or operator partners to understand the university’s goals for student success and residential education, and the flexibility to develop the contractual relationship. “We want to talk about management, marketing and have an open conversation,” he said. “An honest conversation includes [the departments of] student affairs and housing early in the process.” He added that there are not many campus housing officers in the U.S. who can make big financial decisions, “but many can kill the deal.” Colleges and universities are also seeking involvement in the design for living space, room configurations, program space, and finishes. They want site access during construction. “We want to walk on-site in our hard hats and vests and be able to identify deficiencies.” Mostly, universities want to know the project will be delivered on-time. “We don’t want students in hotels,” he said. “Yet this fall, it’s estimated there were 40 late deliveries.”