In higher education, facilities departments are often taken for granted. However, according to High Point University President Nido Qubein, the reality is that facilities are “one heck of an asset,” playing a huge role in the success of an institution.
High Point University is a living testament to this claim. Since Qubein’s arrival in 2005, a major investment in facilities has sparked an incredible transformation, increasing undergrad enrollment by 210% and 383% in campus acreage. At the Higher Ed Facilities Forum, Qubein gave an inspiring keynote into how facilities leaders can communicate their value and overcome limitations.
HPU’s Extraordinary Metamorphosis
When Qubein arrived at High Point, he inherited $100 million in deferred maintenance along with the challenge of lagging enrollment, smack dab in the heart of the great recession. Nonetheless, the accomplished business leader was no stranger to adversity.
“At 17, I came to America from Lebanon with $50 in my pocket, not knowing another soul. My father died when I was six and my mother had a fourth-grade education,” Qubein shared.
Despite these limitations, the word “can’t” didn’t exist in the Qubein household. Self-taught in English via flashcards, Qubein went on to become a successful business consultant, internationally-known speaker and author of over a dozen books before joining HPU.
“I believe there’s no such thing as unrealistic dreams; only unrealistic timelines,” Qubein said. “You have to invest money to make money, recession or not.”
Thanks to a $1.6 billion investment and the addition of 90 new and acquired buildings on campus, HPU’s rankings soared from #17 in 2005 to #1...for seven years in a row, no less. Qubein led the university through an extraordinary metamorphosis, including major increases in revenue, traditional undergraduate enrollment (from 1,450 to 4,500 students), and the number of faculty (from 108 to 300).
“Today, there’s over $240 million in construction underway, with zero debt or loans involved. I have great regard for facilities leaders; without you, we can’t do what we do,” Qubein shared.
Sharing his personal story, Qubein maintains that despite any perceived lack of resources, success is always an option. “We’re living in an era of limited budgets and deferred maintenance. But if you take risks in life, you will have opportunities. That’s the message you, as a leader, need to deliver on your campus and in your department. Choices are everything: The circumstances we find ourselves in won’t determine our outcome in life.”
The Importance of Facilities
According to Qubein, state-of-the-art facilities are non-negotiable in the competitive higher ed arena. Today’s students are increasingly discerning customers, and facilities are like a package: “If they don’t like what they see, they won’t even open it.”
The challenge is that facilities management often gets taken for granted by university leadership. Qubein encourages facilities leaders to raise their profile, earn a well-deserved seat at the table, and build a bridge of understanding with others.
“If your president and business officers don't truly understand what you do, you will forever be seen as an expense on the balance sheet, when really you're one heck of an asset. You must communicate your value and relevance!” Qubein declared.
"Don’t think about buildings or maintenance, but rather the human beings who enter your hallways to learn and exit to serve"
HPU spends an estimated $85,o00 to $90,000 per dorm bed, but according to Qubein, the investment pays itself back, since proper maintenance eliminates the need for costly future repairs. Plus, going the extra mile for students is a fundraising strategy in itself. Qubein led High Point in raising $300 million in gifts and pledges, without even a formal campaign, emphasizing that grateful parents were a crucial driver of that success.
“If parents see a hole in the window screen, it sends the message that we can’t take care of their kids,” Qubein said. “I tell parents, ‘You can trust us with your kids. You gave your kids roots; we’ll give them wings.’ Well-maintained facilities communicate that message. In today’s ever-changing marketplace, what’s going to win is relevance, distinctiveness, and going above and beyond.”
Qubein wrapped up his talk with an inevitable fact of life: When we die, nobody really cares about superficial successes or how much money we made. Rather, what matters is the positive impact we made on the world.
“Facilities leaders, you are the unspoken of heroes. I salute you and encourage you to focus on the impact you’re making on campus. Don’t think about buildings or maintenance, but rather the young human beings who enter your hallways to learn and exit to serve," Qubein said.
“Success is limited in value. What matters is the journey from success to significance, and from significance to impact.”
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