Nicole Davies

Hello! My name is Nicole and I am a Marine spouse and mother of three daughters, ages 16, 10, and 7. I have been a stay-at-home mom most of their lives while also pursuing my Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. In the past I have worked as a social worker for child welfare in the state of Pennsylvania. I have also taught preschool for ages 2.5 - 4. During my master’s program I interned as a therapist at an inpatient psychiatric hospital working with adults, teens, and kids. My ultimate goal is to become an independently licensed therapist. Our family has lived in Onslow County for 10 of the last 15 years, which has given my children a stability that is rare among military families. While NC has been my home for several years now, I am still a Yankee at heart! I will always choose a Philly cheesesteak over a pulled-pork sandwich. In addition to taking care of my family and my educational pursuits, I enjoy traveling to destinations near and far; a novel in which I can get lost; and chatting with friends over a good cup of coffee.


College Classroom Space is Highly Underutilized

Just when I and many of you are scratching our heads contemplating the skyrocketing cost of college tuition and textbooks, I come across an article from the December 2012 edition of Carolina Journal, broadcasting the vast underutilization of university classroom space. Now, I have to admit that the title of that writing caught my eye and initially, on a very elementary level, I quickly questioned how such a thing could be, given indeed, that students and parents are paying astronomical amounts of hard earned cash for the very coveted college education.

I delved in to read the article in its entirity and try to understand how this huge number of classrooms is being unoccupied. The first parapgraph gets my attention: During any given day, it seems, there are many empty classrooms on most campuses even during the busiest time of day. I quote, ” During the average hour of the school day at UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, less than 2/5 s of the school’s classrooms – only 37% are being used”, (according to the latest available figures in fall of 2011). Further, even at peak usage times of the day, more than a quarter of usable classroom space is empty. Really?

This isn’t only an issue at UNC-Chapel Hill. According to data collections of a higher education consulting group that specializes in facilities management called Ad Astro Information Systems. A broad conclusion states that classroom occupancy during the typical Monday through Friday, 8am – 10pm, is 49%. The 17 schools in the UNC system had an average classroom occupancy of 44% during 2009. A different study conducted in 2011, NC community colleges report more dismal findings – the average classroom was only used 18.4 hours  (or 26% of the standard school week). Four private NC colleges were also surveyed and found  to average 23% classroom usage in 2011. All of these findings suggest that operational costs are higher than need be. The average American university spends $2,073 per student per year on building maintainance (American Physical Plant Association).  More efficient use of classrooms and university facilities could result in substantial savings. And parents, don’t forget about how we are worrying ourselves crazy  wondering how to pay for college tuition.

So, one might contemplate then how and why this classroom underutilization is happening given that universities have the ability to schedule classes throughout the entire course of a day and/ or evening. Some observations, based on noting the patterns of use, have it that universities simply give in to the desires of students and professors to sleep late and go home early. A specific example was noted at Appalachian State University, where 80% of classrooms were used during the 11am hour but only 31% were used during the 8am slot and evening hour usage was much lower.

Another significant factor perhaps influencing classroom usage is the limited availability of very large classroom or technologically capable classrooms which can accomodate a large number of students for a single class. Two ideas have emerged to counter the low usage trend, one being a “space charge” program which basically allocates a pre-determined amount of funding per department to pay for the maintainance and construction of classroom space actually used instead of that money coming from a centalized fund, which then hopefully serves as a stimulus for departments to actaully become more efficient in its space usage. By charging departments more for the usage during peak hours, they might be inclined to schedule classes throughout the day and evening, avoiding bottle-necking and create more even distribution of class times and space use.

Apparently, this concept has been slow to catch on in American universities and in those in which it has been implemented, only subtle changes have been noted. Other thoughts include closing energy inefficient older buildings during times of weather extremes, such as during the heat of summer or the severe cold of winter in some locations.  Conversely, abandoning the traditional two semester format (with summers typically off) and using classroom space, especially new more energy efficient buildings throughout the year would create more classroom availability overall, thus increasing efficiency of use and containment of overall costs.

All theoretical perhaps, since making better and more efficient use of classroom space likely isn’t too popular amongst either students or faculty as it may force them to wake up early and even stay late on campus. Parents may be the only true advocates since more efficient space utilization could translate to stabilization of college tuition cost. Your thoughts?


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