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Centers of attention: roles of collegiate conference centers come into focus – includes list of members of Assn. of Conference and Events Directors International for Collegiate Conference and Events Professionals – Cover Story

Twenty years ago, a college might have rented out dormitory space
to church groups in the summer to keep the buildings in use and to make
a little money on the side. Today, renting out space to host
conferences and meetings has become a big business for colleges and

The scope of the business is being determined by a study sponsored
by the Association of Conference and Events Directors International for
Collegiate Conference and Events Professionals (ACED). Jill Lancaster,
the association’s executive director, expects the dollar amount to be
surprisingly large.

“There are still church groups that want dorm rooms in the summer,
but the services they are offered are more extensive,” says Lancaster.
Such services include sophisticated classroom space with advanced
technology, auditoriums, theaters and athletic facilities.

“What better place to conduct a conference than a college campus,”
says Michele Nichols, publisher of The Guide which lists hundreds of
campus and university meeting facilities. `They are inspirational,
refreshing. It’s a great match.’

The need for campuses to have conference centers has been
recognized for some time. For more than forty years, Kellogg has given
development grants to promote continuing education on college campuses.
Michigan State University was the first, in the early 1950s; Tuskegee
University the last, in 1994.

Few colleges have stand-alone conference centers on campus, but
almost all have some facilities that are available to groups to rent.

“I can’t think of a college or university that doesn’t make its
facilities available in the summer in order to make money,” says Connie
Gilmore-Boaitey, the incoming president of ACED.

The very existence of ACED serves as a testimony to the growing
nature of the business. Twenty years ago, eleven people whose jobs were
to facilitate conferences on campuses formed the organization. Today
membership tops 450, which doesn’t even count those people whose
primary jobs are housing or student affairs but who manage conferences
on the side.

For most colleges and universities, the point of hosting
conferences is not primarily to make money but rather to provide a
service to the university community — faculty members who want to
sponsor a symposium in their field, for example, or alumni groups
looking to reconnect with their university.

Georgetown University associate vice president of auxiliary
services Margie Bryant lists “a chance to make money” as priority
number three on her school’s list of reasons for opening its conference
center. Service and education are more important, she said.

Nevertheless, Georgetown’s center makes “in the millions” for the
the university — housing everything from academic conferences and
conventions to alumni and family weekends, weddings, and parents of
sick children at the university hospital.

Acknowledging that institutions have begun to realize that their
facilities can be profit centers, Gilmore-Boaitey said, “Most colleges
use the money to go back into facilities. It buys beds and paint and
carpets and helps keep down the cost of tuition. “

Her college, Westmont, is a small Christian liberal arts college.
When she began, perhaps 2,000 people would stay at the college in the
course of the summer. This year, she will play host to 8,000 visitors.
The college plan is that revenues from hosting these visitors will pay
to build a stand-alone conference center that will serve the needs of
the university faculty as well as host church school groups and others.

Gilmore-Boaitey, who believes that more and more groups will want
to use campus sites for their meetings, said, “We have access to
technology that you wouldn’t have access to at a hotel.”

One of the most advanced facilities on any campus is the Penn
State’s Scanticon Conference Center Hotel built and managed by
Scanticon International. In fact, Penn State University has two
conference centers — its older, renovated Nittany Lion Inn and the $3
million, “five star” conference complex. The Scanticon center has 150
guest rooms, 38 meeting rooms, and another 25,000 square feet of
banquet and exhibit space.

Scanticon International had an arrangement with the university
wherein Scanticon made money based on the number of paying customers
the center hotel brought in, said the university’s financial services
coordinator Joe Doncsecz.

But after two years of operation, the university has announced that
it will take over the running of the conference center in order to take
advantage of “cost efficiency opportunities.” The team that has managed
the Nittany Lion Inn will run both as of May 5.

Colleges and universities are still searching for the best way to
manage these facilities. Some are turning over management to private
companies (see related story). Others, like Penn State and Tuskegee
(see related story), are taking back management from private companies.
Some of the issues involved have to do with whether campuses think of
the conference centers primarily as service centers or profit centers.

Scheduling conferences is one of the ways campus facilities differ from regular hotels or conference centers.

“Our academic classes have first priority,” says Karen McDonald,
university conference and facility use manager at University of North
Carolina-Charlotte. “Once our course schedule is completed, then
student organizations are able to reserve their space. Once they
reserve their space, it’s open to university departments. Then we open
it up to off-campus groups for conferences or seminars.”

As a result, McDonald said she cannot confirm space until a few
months before groups need it — something that would prevent a large
group from meeting on campus.

UNC-Charlotte does not have a standalone conference center. What it
has is typical of many campuses — meeting and classroom space and
residence halls in the summer. Its goal is to provide those to the
campus and surrounding community and cover its own costs. Even so, it
brings in about $1 million in revenue.

“Our long term plan for the year 2010 includes a proposal for a conference center,” McDonald says.

McDonald sees a big future for campus conference centers “primarily
because of the downsizing of organizations. They are looking for ways
to save money. They have to have meetings, but they have to have ways
to save money.”

The summer is, for obvious reasons, the busiest time for college
conference centers. Campuses are relatively empty, hosting only summer
classes. And according to Lancaster, one of the biggest moneymakers for
colleges is high school cheerleading camps.

“Some folks in academe say, `we don’t need people cheerleading
outside the windows in summer classes.’ But they are high school
students and the recruitment possibilities are enormous,” said

RELATED ARTICLE: Institutional of members of Association of
Conference and Events Directors International for Collegiate Conference
and Events Professionals (ACED)

ACED is the organization of professional conference organizers on college campuses.

Adrian College Albany Law School Allegheny College American
University Anderson University Anne Arundel Community Col. Appalachian
State University Asbury Theological Seminary Assumption College
Atlantic Community College Augsburg College Augustana College Azusa
Pacific University Babson College Ball State University Barry
University Baylor University Bentley College Berea College Bethany
College Bethel College and Seminary Binghamton University Biola
University Birmingham-Southern College Bowie State University Bowling
Green State University Bridgewater State College Brown University
Bryant College Buena Vista University Butler University California
Lutheran University California Maritime Academy California Polytechnic
State University California State University, Chico California State
University, Monterey Bay California State University, Northridge
California State University, San Bernardino California State
University, Stanislaus California University of Pennsylvania Canisius
College Carleton College Carrol College Case Western Reserve University
Cedar Crest College Centenary College Central College Central
Connecticut State University Central Missouri State University Central
Washington University Chadron State College Chapman University
Claremont McKenna College Clemson University Coastal Carolina
University Colby College Colgate University College of Charleston
College of Mount St. Joseph College of Notre Dame College of the Holy
Cross Colorado State University Columbia University Concordia College
Concordia University Concordia University at Austin Concordia
University, Canada Connecticut College Cornell College Cornell
University Culver-Stockton College Daemen College Dalhousie University
Davidson College Davis & Elkins College DePaul University Dickinson
College Drew University Duke University Duquesne University East
Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania East Tennessee State University
Eastern College Eastern Michigan University Elgin Community College
Elizabethtown College Elon College Emory University Ferris State
University Ferrum College Florida International University Florida Tech
Fort Lewis College Franciscan University of Steubenville Franklin &
Marshall College Franklin Pierce College Frostburg State University
George Mason University Georgetown University Law Center Georgia
College and State University Georgian Court College Gettysburg College
Gonzaga University Grand Valley State University Grant MacEwan
Community Col. Gustavus Adolphus College Hamilton College Hanover
College Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Inc. Hawaii Pacific
University Heidelberg College Hofstra University Holy Names College
Hope College Huntington College Idaho State University Illinois State
University Indiana University Foundation Indiana University Kokomo
Indiana Wesleyan University Iowa State University Ithaca College James
Madison University Johnson State College Juniata College Kalamazoo
College Kean College Keene State College Kingsborough Community College
(CUNY) Knox College Kutztown University Lake Washington Technical
College Lehigh University Lenoir-Rhyne College Lewis University Lock
Haven University Longwood College Louisiana State University Loyola
College in Maryland Loyola Marymount University Loyola University New
Orleans Loyola University of Chicago Luther College Lyndon State
College Macomb Community College Marian College Marist College
Marquette University Marshall University Mary Baldwin College McGill
University Menlo College Messiah College Miami University Michigan
State University Michigan Technological University Mills College
Milisaps College Montclair State University Mount Allison University
Mount Holyoke College Mount Saint Mary’s College Mount St. Mary’s
College New Mexico State University Niagara University Nicholls State
University North Carolina State University North Dakota State
University North Park University Northeastern State University Northern
Arizona University Northern Kentucky University Northwestern College
Oberlin College Occidental College Ohio Wesleyan University Oklahoma
City Community Col. Oklahoma State University Olivet College Oral
Roberts University Oregon Institute of Technology Otterbein College
Pacific Lutheran University Potomac State College Princeton University
Pt. Loma Nazarene College Queen’s University Radford University Ramapo
College of New Jersey Reed College Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rhodes College Ripon College Rivier College Roanoke College Rochester
Institute of Technology Roger Williams University Rollins College
Rutgers College, Rutgers The State University Rutgers, State University
of New Jersey Saint Mary’s College Saint Mary’s University Saint Mary’s
University of Minnesota Saint Michael’s College Saint Vincent College
Saint Xavier University Salisbury State University Samuel Merritt
College San Jose State University Santa Clara University Sarah Lawrence
College Savannah College of Art and Design Scripps College Seattle
Pacific University Seattle University Shippensburg University Simon
Fraser University Simpson College Sinclair Community College Slippery
Rock University Smith College Soka University of America Sonoma State
University South Suburban College Southern Connecticut State University
Southern Methodist University Southern Oregon State College Southern
Utah University Southwest Missouri State Univ. Springfield College St.
Albans School (Prep School) St. Andrews Presbyterian College St. John’s
University St. Lawrence University St. Mary’s College of California St.
Mary’s College of Maryland St. Norbert College St Olaf College Stetson
University Stonehill College SUNY at Geneseo SUNY at New Paltz SUNY at
Plattsburgh SUNY at Stony Brook SUNY College at Brockport SUNY College
at Potsdam SUNY Farmingdale SUNY Fredonia SUNY Institute of Technology
at Utica/Rome Sweet Briar College Taylor University Temple University
Texas A&M University Texas Christian University Texas Woman’s
University The Catholic University of America The College of New Jersey
The College of Santa Fe The College of William and Mary The Evergreen
State College The George Washington University The Johns Hopkins
University The Pennsylvania State University The University of Arizona
The University of Georgia The University of Iowa The University of
Michigan The University of Mississippi The University of Texas Medical
Branch The University of Western Ontario Thomas College Tokai
University at Honolulu Towson State University Trent University Trinity
College Trinity International University Trinity University Troy State
University Tubs University Tulane University University of Alaska
Southeast University of Baltimore University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles University of California,
Riverside University of California, Santa Barbara University of
California, Santa Cruz University of Chicago University of Colorado
University of Dayton University of Delaware University of Denver
University of Hawaii at Hilo University of Houston – Clear Lake
University of Idaho University of Iowa University of Kentucky
University of Maine University of Maine at Farmington University of
Maryland at College Park University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Massachusetts at Amherst University of Massachusetts
Dartmouth University of Michigan University of Minnesota University of
Minnesota – Twin Cities University of Missouri – Rolla University of
Nebraska at Omaha University of Nevada, Reno University of New
Hampshire University of New Mexico University of North Alabama
University of North Carolina – Greensboro University of North Carolina
at Charlotte University of North Texas University of Northern Colorado
University of Northern Iowa University of Oklahoma University of
Pennsylvania University of Pittsburgh University of Pittsburgh at
Johnstown University of Puget Sound University of Redlands University
of Richmond University of Rochester University of San Diego University
of South Carolina University of South Florida University of Southern
California University of Southern Colorado University of St. Thomas
University of Texas at Arlington University of Texas at San Antonio
University of Toronto University of Victoria University of Washington
University of Waterloo University of Windsor University of Wisconsin –
Milwaukee University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh University of Wisconsin –
Platteville University of Wisconsin – River Falls University of
Wisconsin – Stevens Point University of Wisconsin – Stout Utah State
University Vanderbilt University Vassar College Villa Maria Center Wake
Forest University Washington & Lee University Washtenaw Community
College Waubonsee Community College Wellesley College Wesleyan
University West Chester University of Pennsylvania Western Carolina
University Western State College of Colorado Western Washington
University Westfield State College Westmont College Wheaton College
Whitman College Whitworth College Willamette University William Jewell
College Williams College Wilson College Winthrop University Woodbury
University Yale University Yavapai College

Source: ACED, 1997

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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