Student Parking Crisis Averted

I was the 3rd President of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and presided over a major growth in the campus infrastructure at both residential campuses. Parking is a premium on all college campuses and as we built out the Daytona Beach campus, parking became less convenient.

However, this was a misnomer since parking was still great. We were collocated with the local airport and in the early days parking, lots comprised of old runways adjacent to campus. Students could virtually park within a few hundred feet of the particular classroom to which they were going. As the campus was being built out, taking a more traditional layout, parking was in organized lots throughout the campus. Sometimes a new build would disrupt these flows.

Soon after the building programs were launched students began to complain about parking. Since they felt the administration was unresponsive to their concerns it seemed that momentum was building for major student disruptions. The student paper was covering the issue and fanning the flames.

The reality was that our parking was great. But our communication plan was non-existent. The administration really wanted to wait out the issue, because in their minds it couldn’t escalate given that our parking was really excellent. But some of my student representatives intimated that student unrest was building.

I decided to intervene and with the help of the student life and facilities organizations on campus and launched the Five and Ten Rule. First, we admitted that parking convenience had declined as a result of the building program. We developed some new driving patterns and signage to address the issue (but not new parking slots).  Second, we agreed that we would adhere to the Five and Ten Rule.

Five and Ten Rule:  Students should be able to drive on campus via the recommended routes and find a parking place within 5 minutes.  Also, wherever they parked, they should be able to walk to their next class or activity within 10 minutes.  

We also agreed, that if we couldn’t accommodate the new Five and Ten Rule, we would develop new parking lots.

I remember that about two weeks after we launched the new program I was playing basketball on one of the outside basketball courts and some students came up to me to complain about parking. I told them about the new program and asked them if they had read about it.  They indicated that they had, but weren’t convinced that was a good standard.

A parent happened to be walking by and heard this explanation. He asked me how we could possibly implement such a great program. He said he had a student at Florida State and one at University of Florida. He actually said that if one those university presidents announced such a program, then the students would probably carry their president around campus on their shoulders in celebration.

Naturally, I turned to the students standing there and asked them if they liked the program too? One of them said with a grin, “Perhaps we are just lazy.”

As expected, the issue subsided. Some of the rabble-rousers challenged the Five and Ten Rule and called the number in the announcement. A facilities person met them at the designated spot and then rode with them onto campus and then walked with them to class. As expected, none exceeded the limits. We never heard about that issue again during my tenure.

Interestingly, this also illustrates the need for setting expectations. Previously expectations were too high and not sustainable on a modern campus with outstanding facilities for students. A good compromise was needed that would be acceptable to students and faculty.  So setting a standard of excellence, five minutes to find a campus parking slot and ten minutes to walk to class, needed to be communicated.  Secondly, just solving a problem doesn’t fix the perception.  A communication plan is required.  See the Perception Equation.

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