Case Study: Growing Enrollment Without Growing Pains

How can an organization grow in place, without growing capital assets? LENS was recently engaged by a top-tier liberal arts college to help with this challenge.


Unlike the sprawling, bucolic campuses of its peers, this client operates in a dense urban setting. On top of this physical constraint, enrollment has grown by 15 percent over the past 10 years. With space at such a premium, LENS looked for strategies to utilize resources efficiently without compromising the student, faculty, or staff experience.

LENS approached this project with a two-pronged, data-driven approach. We gathered qualitative data through interviews and workshops to unpack an anecdotal sense of “tightness” into specific behaviors, relationships, and patterns of use. Simultaneously, we inventoried quantitative data such as course schedule, course enrollment, departmental growth, meal plan participation, library card swipes, parking permit applications, room sizes, furniture types, event schedules, and more. When examined together, these two sets of data reveal the comprehensive nature of the problem across space, time, operations, and culture.

Primary recommendations centered on schedule optimization to make better use of time slots outside of “prime time,” or 9:40 AM to 2:10 PM. Quantitative assessment demonstrated that this shift would add the equivalent of five classrooms to the College’s portfolio plus reduce required class conflicts, which interviews revealed as a student pain point.

We proposed an AirBnB-type online portal with a list of features, hours of operation, and photos of each publicly available room on campus.

Understandably, users tend to rely on spaces in their “backyard”—broader awareness of available space will not only spread event loads more evenly across campus, but will also facilitate better matches between user needs and available space.

The implementation time frame for these solutions, among others, ranged from as soon as next semester to as far reaching as a five-year plan. The participatory design process behind these solutions touched 400 stakeholders over the course of the project.