Student Parking Crisis Averted

In Anecdotes by Steve Sliwa

I was the third 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, so in the early days, parking lots were old runways adjacent to campus. Students could virtually park within a few hundred feet of the particular classroom to which they were going. But when building out the campus, we took a more traditional layout, and parking was organized in lots throughout the campus. Sometimes, however, new construction disrupted the flow.

Soon after launching the building programs, students started complaining about parking. Since they felt the administration was unresponsive to their concerns, momentum was building for major student disruptions. The student paper covered the issue and fanned the flames.

The reality was that our parking was great. But our communication plan was non-existent. The administration 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 increasing.

I decided to intervene and, with the help of the student life and facilities organizations on campus, launched the Five and Ten Rule. First, we admitted that parking convenience had declined as a result of the building program. We developed new driving patterns and signage to address the issue but created no 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.

About two weeks after we launched the new program, I was playing basketball on an outside basketball court, 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 it was a good standard.

A parent happened to walk 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 the 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, 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, simply solving a problem doesn’t fix the perception. A communication plan is required.

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