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Rural colleges plan to urbanize

February 15th, 2007

Colleges in rural areas, such as Hendrix College, located in Conway, Arkansas, are seeking a new edge. Hendrix College sits in a rural country area which is surrounded by unused land.

For miles nothing can be seen but thick green grass and rolling hills. Students on campus are able to stay focused because there is not much to do but study.

Officials at such institutions believe that the students who populate these types of colleges need a new twist, according to The New York Times.

That new twist involves urbanization, which would hopefully bring not only more students and families to the area, but also retired baby boomers.

“I think students crave the kind of vitality you have in an urban space,” said J. Timothy Cloyd, president of Hendrix College. “The images that reveal an active social life are urban-based.”

Hendrix plans to begin the transformation this year with the construction of over 200 single-family homes, 400 townhouses, apartments, loft-style condominiums and a charter school.

On the corner of the property, a student fitness center is already under way, and along with that there will be other cultural and educational facilities.

The construction of these houses and buildings will be directly across from the main campus and constructed on 130 acres of forest land that is owned by the college.

The college plans to invest about $8 to $10 million into this project and it will share the profits with the developers. According to The New York Times, the Hendrix construction project will be built in a style known as New Urbanism.

This style embodies narrow roads which de-emphasizes car traffic, but promotes pedestrian traffic.

The buildings will be located close to the street to also de-emphasize car traffic, and resemble building structures that were built in American towns in the first half of the 20th Century.

“It is about creating walk-able places that are sustainable and gratifying on a human scale,” said Robert L. Chapman, managing director of Traditional Neighborhood Development Partner.

These kinds of developments are being built by institutions with large amounts of unused land. Officials hope to take advantage of these projects, which will hopefully increase the size of their student body.

“It seems to me that really successful universities reach out to the community,” said Tom Fanning, director of admissions and retention at John Carroll University.

“Depending on the types of students you want to attract, you need to account for the wants and needs of the students,” said Fanning.

Similar projects are under way at more than a dozen other institutions nationwide, including the University of Notre Dame, Furman University in Greensville, South Carolina, Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the University of Connecticut, in Storrs.

Such schools as the University of Pennsylvania, which is already an urban school, understands that universities must expand and update their facilities.

“When you picture a global university, you picture urban,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania. “You picture restaurants, art galleries, you picture day and night, taking in movies, live performances.”

According to the NY times, “Students graduating from high school these days seem particularly attracted to urban settings,” said Dr. Cloyd, the Hendrix president.