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Between aging infrastructure, rising costs, changing demographics, and fundamental changes to the way we learn and live, higher ed facilities leaders certainly have their hands full.

At the Higher Ed Facilities Forum, we’re focused on exploring how North America’s top universities are raising the bar and taking innovative approaches to the industry’s greatest challenges. With HEFF ‘19 just a few weeks away, we decided to get the conversation started early and asked registered attendees the following two questions:

  • What do you think will be the biggest change to hit higher education in the next 10-20 years?

  • What excites you the most about your role and the future of higher ed?

While we received a mix of thoughtful answers, one interesting factor was that there was an overlap of answers in both categories. In other words, facilities leaders aren’t taking the obstacles thrown their way lying down: rather, they view their greatest challenges as opportunities for growth.

Accelerating Technology

There’s no question that technology will play a defining role in the future of higher ed. However, the jury is still out regarding the extent to which advances in tech will transform the way we learn and teach.

As one facilities leader from north Texas commented, “The ever-changing world of technology will always rock our world and cause new ways of working to emerge. How we function in our offices, classrooms and informal learning areas through technology will change.”

While remote learning hasn’t eradicated physical campuses just yet, the rate of technological speed today is unparalleled, which is both a cause for concern and excitement for HEFF attendees. A facilities leader from St. Francis College remarked that “the way education will be delivered, whether online, in-person or as a hybrid, will affect everything facilities departments do,” from the size of future facilities to prioritizing construction and renovations.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Survey answers also discussed the influence of technology beyond the classroom. IoT, AI, and data-driven methods of designing and operating buildings all offer exciting possibilities for the future of facilities management.


“I’m looking forward to the admission of AI into the construction industry so we can all work safer, smarter, and more efficiently,” said a facilities leader from the University of New Hampshire.

Another exec remarked: “I’m excited for new technology that allows greater access to information so that we can improve; modify and correct issues that may arise or even before they happen.”

Financial Pressure

Money (namely, a lack thereof) was mentioned by most facilities leaders, regardless of size and location. As institutions are forced to operate leaner than ever before, facilities organizations are hurting. The cost to maintain and operate campuses is a major concern.

“Higher Education will continue to be challenged to finance on-campus rejuvenation of aging buildings as online and non-traditional education models evolve,” said a senior administrator from the University of Florida.

Student debt was called both “critical and paralyzing.” As another put it: “The never-ending battle between costs of education vs. quality of the offer vs. what the students are willing to pay.”

A facilities leader from Florida State University remarked that the funding gap to maintain facilities partially reflects a lack of organizational efficiency in adequately prioritizing funding needs, noting that we need to get better at preventing that “breakdown” in the planning phase.

Aging Infrastructure + Workforce

Deferred maintenance was unsurprisingly a commonly cited challenge, which also ties into the financial concern aspect. Facilities leaders are dealing with outdated buildings and systems with limited resources.

At the same time, the professionals tasked with these decisions are also getting older...and many don’t feel ready to pass the torch in confidence. The industry must prepare for a Baby Boomer exodus in the coming few years. As one attendee succinctly stated, “We need qualified people to fill jobs.”

“Limitless” Future Opportunities


Despite the obstacles above, HEFF attendees expressed strong optimism about the future. Opportunities to meet the demands of the next generation, and lead during a time of rapid change were all listed as causes for excitement.

Most of all, the theme of bettering the built environment to positively shape the lives of young people was repeated again and again. “I love to be able to support our students as they strive in their preparations to launch their careers, achieve their dreams, and to support fundamental research that has the potential to literally change our world in the most positive of ways,” said a facilities leader from Oregon State University.

“To positively impact the culture not only within facilities but within our university, is an honor. My competitive nature will not accept the status quo and is driven by continuous change for improvement,” said a facilities leader from Kansas State University.

We’re excited to take these conversations even further at the Higher Ed Facilities Forum next month in Hollywood, Florida. As one administrator remarked, “We are on the cusp of so many new and exciting things. As strategic planners it is our role to be bold, dream big, and to not be afraid to fail. That's where innovation is born.”

For more on innovations in higher ed facilities, stay tuned for upcoming content from HEFF19 on our blog and YouTube channel!

Hannah Chenoweth

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Hannah Chenoweth is a writer for influence group. Passionate about collaborating with thought leaders in real estate, design, construction & facilities management.

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Nov 10-12, 2024 | Tempe, AZ

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