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Research Report

4 of the most iconic campus landscapes—and the impact they have on students

September 18, 2018

A welcoming environment is undoubtedly important to attract prospective students and engage current students. But many campus leaders do not realize the full impactful of the physical environment.

EAB’s Enrollment Services surveyed over 200,000 students in 2017 and found that the campus environment is the number one reason students chose to enroll at a different institution. More so than academic reputation (12.9%) and cost (11.5%), it’s the campus environment (13.6%) that drives students away—or draws them in.

To learn more about how campuses are creating compelling environments, we explored some of the most iconic campus landscapes—and the impact each one has on students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

1. The cherry trees at University of Washington (Seattle, WA)

©2007 Punctured Bicycle (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Background: UW has 30 cherry trees that bring thousands of picnicking visitors from across the globe, typically during the third week of March each year as the trees bloom.

Staffing needs: Three gardeners to prune the trees and inspect for hazards.

Impact: From Sara Shores, UW’s urban forest specialist: “A professor at Washington State who studied the appearance of North American campuses found that students evaluate a college after only 10 minutes of being on campus, and 62% base their ultimate college decision on the appearance of the buildings and landscape. If a student visits during cherry blossom time they will see the one of the prettiest urban areas in Washington State. I think it adds a lot to people’s decisions about choosing UW!”

2. The flower “M” at the University of Maryland (College Park, MD)

©2016 John T. Consoli/University of Maryland

Background: The flower M welcomes visitors to campus with 792 annual flowers. For most of the year, the M consists of yellow pansies, but during the summer graduation season, the grounds crew swaps in red Vodka begonias.

Staffing needs: Maryland employs a horticulturist and three to four staff members to maintain the flowers as a part of their landscaping duties.

Impact: From Karen Petroff, landscape operations manager: “Many people create lasting memories at the M during important milestone events such as Commencement or Homecoming, which is extremely gratifying to see. Those moments of wonder and beauty (for students and staff alike) contribute to a thriving community. And the continuity of the M creates a legacy from one generation of Maryland students to the next.”

3. The Lawn at University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

©2005 University of Virginia

Background: The Lawn is about five acres of turf and trees in the center of UVA’s Academical Village, designed by Thomas Jefferson. Students use it for everything from picnics to major events like graduation and the “Lighting of the Lawn,” a concert and light show celebrating the end of the semester and beginning of the holiday season. Many presidents and dignitaries have visited the lawn since its founding, according to Richard Hopkins, UVA landscape superintendent.

Staffing needs: 12-15 landscape employees including certified arborists, turf care specialists, irrigation technicians, and more.

Impact: From Landscape Superintendent Hopkins: “A beautiful, well maintained, historic area attracts students, professors, researchers, and even tourists. The exterior landscape is most likely the first impression students will have and will also leave a lasting imprint in their minds. The Lawn has been referred to as ‘the heart and soul of the university.’”

4. Taylor Lake at Colgate University, Hamilton, NY

©2012 Balon Greyjoy (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Background: Taylor Lake is a six acre man-made lake next to Colgate’s library.

Staffing needs: The lake is maintained throughout the year by a 19-person grounds crew. It’s actually also named after a previous superintendent of buildings and grounds, Professor James Taylor. He had a swamp carved out and made into the lake. It was once rumored that there was a car at the bottom, but Taylor Lake was dredged in the 1970s and no car was found.

Impact: From Mike Jasper, director of grounds and environmental services: “The lake plays prominently in many of our admissions publications to prospective students. When alumni come back to visit, they attend their reunion next to the lake each year. And the lake has a very personal impact as well. Legend has it that if you kiss someone on Willow Path along the lake, you’ll get married—so we have a lot of alumni who come back to campus to propose there.”