Campus Real Estate Planning Initiative Update
I am writing with the first of what will be a series of periodic updates to you about a campus real estate planning initiative recently authorized by our Board of Trustees. The twin goals of this initiative are to explore how best to continue preparing our students for careers and further study in the sciences, and how to create a robust learning community by improving the living experience on our campus.
This initiative is one of many strategic building blocks we have explored over the years that is focused on implementing changes and growth for Simmons College to ensure our vitality and our future, while honoring the mission conceived by our founder John Simmons.
Simmons has never been stronger — financially and academically. The College is enjoying robust enrollment rates, particularly within the undergraduate college. For the past two years, our entering first-year classes have been the largest in our history and, importantly, they have been the most academically prepared and diverse — ethnically, economically, and geographically — we have ever had. We are on track for similar results for the fall 2017 incoming class as well. We have risen dramatically in the U.S.News & World Report rankings by five spots to number 11 in the Regional Universities North category of 643 institutions this year; we have seen operating surpluses six out of the last seven years; our endowment at roughly $175 million is healthy and impressive for a school our size; and our net tuition revenue is growing, due in part to the success of our pioneering online graduate programs. Finally, our most recent capital campaign, Making Education Work, exceeded its $85 million goal, bringing the total of our campaign to just over $100 million — a sure sign that our alumnae/i and friends like what they’re seeing and approve of where we’re headed.
In order to continue on this trajectory of strength and to deliver a truly 21st-century co-curricular and residential experience for all students, today and in the future, we must continue to evolve our campus experience.
- More than 53 percent of our students major in laboratory sciences including nursing and health sciences, chemistry, biology, and physics. Our 45-year-old Park Science Center is adequate, but we aspire to more. We want this important facility to meet the expectations for a 21st-century educational experience in the quickly developing STEM fields.
- Our new and innovative core curriculum, PLAN, requires students to build and demonstrate skills that will be critical to their success as people and as employees — for their first jobs and throughout their careers. This curriculum anticipates that students will participate in activities, programs, and living/learning experiences that complement the academic courses and clinical programs we offer. The required courses that make up PLAN involve engagement with the City of Boston and with classmates and peers, in group-focused work best supported by outside-the-classroom meeting spaces and technology. We need more of these types of spaces on our residential campus to support this important and innovative work.
- Our students tell us, and national research confirms, that student-housing preferences have changed. In order to keep pace, we need to complement our classic, traditional residential campus with more suites, common areas, and other features that contribute to a welcoming living environment that we know prospective students are looking for when they are selecting a college.
- We need more of our housing facilities configured to host non-traditional, student-cohort groups for summer opportunities; online immersion conferencing; executive education; and other alternative delivery systems that support the Simmons College vision of being a global leader in leadership and education.
What do we have in mind?
The City of Boston’s Institutional Master Planning (IMP) process for real estate is the zoning framework for colleges, universities, hospitals, and other large institutions, including ours. It mandates that Simmons file a detailed plan of our committed and potential real estate initiatives for the next ten years this upcoming summer.
With that timetable in mind, our Board’s Finance and Facilities Committees authorized the College to submit a Request For Proposals to find qualified developers who, embracing our vision for the future, will assess our current real estate assets and offer a logical, cost-effective pathway to achieving our goals.
In January, we selected Newmark Grubb Knight Frank Capital Markets Group to serve as our real estate advisors. This experienced, world-class firm will assist Simmons in evaluating all options open to us to ensure we maximize the value of any real estate development under consideration.
At this early stage, our plan is only to explore possibilities that the current real estate market may provide for Simmons. It is an important first step that is critical to complete before we make any long-term commitments to a more thorough and specific real estate plan. With the help of our real estate advisors, we will soon know if the time is right to strengthen our campus through the recapitalization of our real estate assets.
I will provide the Simmons community with periodic updates on this exploration. And, as the exploration process continues, and in accordance with the IMP process guidelines, we will provide regular updates for students, faculty, alumnae/i, neighbors, and the general public to keep people informed. More information, including FAQs, can now be found on a new landing page on the Simmons.edu website, which will also be regularly updated.
We can all agree that Simmons is a special place with more than a century of treasured memories and traditions. We look forward to building on that strong foundation as we maintain our place as an academic leader, now and into the future.