Outcomes from COVID-19 Study: Conversations with Higher Education Planners

Masthead updated Preparing classrooms for distanced learning Connecticut Colleg
March 2021

Last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic required colleges and universities to adapt to operating with reduced budgets, remote staff, and dispersed student populations. The pandemic has fostered innovations such as hybrid education models and pop-up classrooms while precipitating trends of remote learning and adaptive reuse of campus buildings. As designers of academic and residential facilities, we asked our clients: what has worked and what has not?

Here are some of their answers.


Biggest Issues

  • Student compliance with social distancing guidelines
  • Communication inefficiency between remote workers
  • Reduced budgets due to construction delays, lower enrollment, and limited residence hall capacity
  • Determining meaningful indicators for decision making when facing data overload and variable public policy

What Has Worked

  • A Covid Task Force that met multiple times per week to address issues as they arose
  • Critical management team activities (CMIT) and a horizontally integrated organizational structure that buoyed staff during the transition to remote work
  • A facilities-led response that provided a framework for university reopening
  • App implementation to monitor flow of people on campus and track community spread
  • Reduced student population on campus
  • Converted multi-student bedrooms into singles and created quarantine dorms
  • Outdoor learning
  • Hybrid educational models with greater emphasis on remote learning
  • Condensed spring semester with more time for quarantine after holiday travel and elimination of mid-semester breaks
  • Increased cleaning of all shared spaces
  • Consistent testing and support of university medical institutions

Questions Raised due to COVID-19

  • How has Covid changed the physical culture of the university? How has Covid changed construction schedules?
  • How did you maintain student life with an increase in remote learning and off-campus housing?
  • How did you foster community among in-residence students while still maintaining physical distance in communal environments such as dining halls and dorms?

Design and Financial Strategies for the Future

  • Leveraging hybrid learning to reach more students
  • Utilizing university buildings for conferences and alumni events during academic off-season
  • Assigning some departments to a permanent work-from-home model
  • Hoteling to provide greater flexibility for existing university spaces
  • Apartment-style housing, both on and off-campus, to address students' changing living preferences and enable physical distancing when necessary
  • Renovating university buildings rather than building new in accordance with broader public health and sustainability objectives
  • Budgeting to a surplus to better weather future pandemics


Colleges and Universities

  • University of Virginia
  • Yale University
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Fairfield University
  • University of Connecticut
  • Connecticut College

Position of Participants

  • Associate Provost for Academic Support and Classroom Management
  • Capital Program Director, Office of Facilities
  • Senior Associate Vice President of Administrative Services
  • Vice President for Facilities Management
  • Associate Vice President, Master Planner and Chief Architect
  • Vice President Finance and Administration


  • Qualitative Analysis
    • Interviewed and surveyed clients and contacts
    • Analyzed responses and identified trends
    • Distributed results to participants and the public
Inset image higher ed covid caption updated