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Parents sending their children off to college for the first time typically have prepared years in advance for the big occasion. And since tuition rates continue to increase, parents are, more than ever, focused on having their child be successful and graduate, says David Porter, founder of a firm that designs campus-wide dining programs and dining halls at colleges throughout North America, and author of "The Porter Principles: Retain & Recruit Students & Alumni, Save Millions on Dining and Stop Letting Food Service Contractors Eat Your Lunch" (www.porterkhouwconsulting.com).
"The average cost for an in-state public college for the 2012-2013 academic year is $22,261, and a moderate budget at a private college averaged $43,289," says Porter, who has worked with the University of Georgia, University of New Hampshire, Ferris State University, George Mason University and the University of Richmond, among others. "While many American families have seen a sharp decline in their household income, higher education for their children is still a top priority."
So, what might parents be overlooking when trying to ensure their child starts off a career with a college degree? It's the school's dining program and the role it plays in campus life, including the location(s), facilities, the menu, meal plans, hours, operating days and more, Porter says.
"It can and will be the most powerful aspect of day to day life for your son or daughter to connect to their class, make friends, see and be seen and connect to the school," he says. "The sooner they connect to one another, the more likely they are to return as sophomores and eventually graduate."
Social architecture, he explains, is the conscious design of an environment to encourage social behaviors that lead toward a goal -- in this case, solidifying college students' connection to one another, and a commitment to their school, through dining.
"Social architecture is a catalyst for students to connect, make friends and be social; it's crucial to helping students connect with their school and develop bonds with other students, which are both critical to student success," he says. "Students who live and dine on campus tend to have higher GPA's and are more likely to graduate."
A meticulously planned, student-focused and socially rich dining program on a campus can help a student graduate for the following reasons, he says:
* Crucial social steps: Out of the house for the first time, living alone or with roommates he or she doesn't know, often far from home, studying challenging material and without the life skills of a mature adult - your child's well-being is largely dependent upon the friends and colleagues he meets at school. Meals are when families, coworkers and friends come together and bond, and it's also when students come together to meet new people, study or just blow off steam.
* Meal plan: These have often been the bane of a student's existence, complete with limited food options, which are often scattered and frequently hamstrung with time limits. And, they can be expensive. But students won't complain about a meal plan's price if they're happy with what they get. Many conscientious students today choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, or they have other diet restrictions, such as gluten, due to their health. A meal plan should complement a campus and the student clock, which is different from that of an administrator's schedule.
* On-campus: Porter stresses the importance of unifying meal plans with dining halls; otherwise, students tend to experience the campus in a fractured manner. Meal plans that offer off-campus options are even more problematic, he says, because that steers the focus away from studies, students and other areas of university life.
* School pride: If universities are like businesses, then loyal alumni are like customer loyalty and positive word of mouth wrapped in one idea. When all of the factors come together for a pleasant, sociable, convenient and generally inviting dining hall, it's a concrete and positive way students can see themselves as lifelong proponents of their schools.
David Porter, FCSI, is chief executive officer and president of Porter Khouw Consulting, Inc., a foodservice master planning and design firm.
Published: April 4, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 51