When you take a real look at the cost of meeting at a college or university, it all adds up to a great value.
By Selena Fragassi
Last year, the Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International (ACCED-I) released their 2011-2012 Benchmark Report, a massive survey that involved 53 schools that reported actual dollar amounts for their facility rates, housing costs, meal plans and other ancillary services such as housekeeping and activities. The distribution of these numbers gave transparency to the often undisclosed price sheets for hosting events and meetings at colleges and universities and gave planners an idea of what services cost—and what they get for them. In the end, the report proved just how affordable campuses can be for conference groups and planners of private events.
Inspired by this report, Unique Venues decided to interview six college and university members to determine what their actual costs are for meeting rooms, overnight accommodations, catering and A/V services. Chosen were two major metropolitan areas, Chicago and Atlanta. Based on their reportings, averages and ranges were computed for each city and once again showed that, compared to more traditional venues in these geographic areas, campuses actually are at the head of the class in value.
Emory University: The noted Atlanta school offers a summer-only conference program due to a heavy volume of events during the school year. Overnight accommodations are provided for up to 2,500 guests, and the largest function space (just one of 60 types of meeting and event rooms) can hold 1,800 people. Emory in total has more than 2 million square feet of LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) space, including four residence halls.
Georgia Institute of Technology: This sprawling downtown Atlanta campus offers 50 meeting spaces, the largest of which can fit 6,000 people. Overnight accommodations are also onsite for up to 6,000 guests. The campus’ conference department is One-Stop Shop Certified by ACCED-I, meaning the planning team can fit together packages that include meeting space, meals, parking, transportation and technology.
Georgia State University: The downtown Atlanta campus has a central focus on housing accommodations but also offers dining services and meeting room space. Residential services can host up to 3,500 people at one time in suite and apartment-style arrangements. Conference services are offered from mid-May through the first week of August.
Illinois Institute of Technology: Located in Chicago, the IIT campus offers three main areas of meeting space in the McCormick Tribune Campus Center, Hermann Hall and various academic buildings. Spaces can host anywhere from 15 to nearly 900 guests. The university has both Red and Green line city transit stops on its campus as well as a Metra Rail train station that allows easy access to and from the airports and downtown hotels. Although the campus only hosts overnight accommodations in the summer for conference and meeting guests, it has relationships with nearby hotels that can provide exclusive room blocks for visitors.
Loyola University Chicago: With two main campuses, Lakeshore and Water Tower, this university can host groups as small as 5 people and up to 700. Housing is available year-round at the Water Tower Campus, with fully furnished apartments and suites. The school also has two off-site locations, the Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock, Illinois, which offers a number of team-building activities, and the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens, a historic building in Vernon Hills, Illinois often used for weddings and corporate events.
University Center Conference Chicago: This downtown center, which was opened in 2004, is co-owned by Columbia College and Roosevelt and DePaul Universities to service both students and year-round conference guests with housing available during summer breaks. The 30,000-square-foot conference center offers 10 meeting rooms and offers extended hours.
*all prices noted are ranges for full-day rentals
Large Capacity Auditorium: $2,000-4,000
Medium-Sized Ballroom: $400-600
Large Capacity Auditorium: $2,200-5,000
Medium-Sized Ballroom: $600-800
“The prices we stipulate depend on the nonprofit status or the focus of the group,” which could potentially reduce your cost, says Dan Dykstra, director of housing and conference services at Georgia Institute of Technology. The fee of renting a meeting room on the Atlanta campus includes the basic equipment you need in it, such as the tables, chairs, stage and basic sound and projection equipment. If that wasn’t a big enough benefit, the plethora of spaces to choose from at Georgia Tech is, in a word, expansive.
“Our venues range from arenas to small boardrooms and everything in between,” Dykstra says. “The Department of Housing has a variety of multipurpose spaces that can be converted into meeting rooms; we also have a variety of classrooms we can tap into.” Also of note are a performing arts center, student center and sports fields, which have often been used for youth camps.
Nearby Emory has a unique selection of spaces as well, including a church and Olympic-sized outdoor pool for recreational events. At Loyola University Chicago, the Lakeshore Campus offers beautiful lakefront views from all its spaces, which includes classrooms, ballrooms and multi-purpose rooms.
Flexibility of meeting spaces is also a key selling point, explains Mark Calderone, sales manager of University Center Conference Chicago. “The great thing about all of our rooms is that they offer open configurations, which means nothing is pre-set, and we can rearrange the space to have any setup you’d like.”
Most campuses offer A/V technology included in the room rental with a service team that costs an extra, nominal fee. For rooms that require equipment and a technician, the cost runs about $100/day. Portable sound systems were quoted at $50-100/day.
All quoted smart rooms with A/V technology included in the room rental. At one location, Wi-Fi access was $10 per device and a service technician was quoted at about $25/hour.
Georgia Tech prides itself on its A/V services (but would you expect any less from a university that bears Technology in its name?) Here, a full-time professional conference planning staff works with planners to establish Internet, cable and wireless connectivity in meeting and guest rooms along with multimedia, teleconferencing and videoconferencing services.
In Chicago, Calderone notes, “the majority of our 10 meeting rooms already have a built-in computer projector, Internet access, whiteboard and DVD player, which are all included in the cost,” a sizable benefit to the planner, he says. “Most traditional venues in this area don’t include audio/visual pricing within the rental fee.”
It’s the same scenario at the nearby Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus. “A lot of features are built into our pricing structure,” says James Wright, director of university events. “We don’t want to nickel and dime our business guests, and they’ll find many amenities included such as A/V, security and housekeeping.”
At Atlanta’s Emory University, smart classrooms come equipped with the same standard setup but also feature a unique add-on: a document camera. “This tool lets you show videos, PowerPoint presentations and even zoom in on an artifact or relic that you can project onto the screen,” says Michelle Wu, assistant director of university conferences.
*prices noted are per person and ranges include all meal types including catered, á la carte, meal plans and grab and go or continental offerings
“Catering is an expensive proposition whether you’re at a hotel or on campus,” says Dykstra. “That’s where dining halls can save you a lot of money.” He notes that Georgia Tech offers an inexpensive meal plan at the school’s state-of-the-art North Avenue Complex, which provides three, all-you-can-eat meals per day. The cost? Under $30 for all three.
“It’s a similar scenario at nearby Georgia State. “We offer a weekly meal plan of 15 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, Monday through Friday)—that costs $125 per person,” says Ty Hill, assistant director of housing and conferences.
At IIT in Chicago, Wright notes there are options for planners on a tight budget. “We have menu options that are built as alternatives to full meals, such as a pasta buffet, chili bar, pizza party and taco bar,” he says, all of which run around $7 to $11 per person.
At Loyola, the school partners with an exclusive caterer, Aramark, who can service any of the food and beverage needs. “We also have dining halls for breakfast, lunch and dinner; otherwise planners have the option to have their event catered to any of the meeting spaces on campus,” notes Daphne Stojiljkovic, conference services and marketing manager. She says most planners take advantage of a complete meeting package that includes everything for the session in one fixed cost, including food, which would range $5-19 depending on the meal.
*prices noted are per person, per night
Four-Bedroom Apartment: $27-100
Semi-Suite Double Room: $29-50
Semi-Suite Single Room: $38-65
Single Dorm Style Rooms: $28-35
Four-Bedroom Apartment: $83-125
Semi-Suite Double Room: $68-75
Semi-Suite Single Room: $75-135
“When we have conference groups coming in, our rates are highly reduced,” says Stojiljkovic of Loyola University. “They can stay with us sometimes for as little as $50/night. You can’t really find anywhere to stay in the city of Chicago for that low of a cost.”
Adds Wu of Emory University, “The rates for our traditional residential housing are a bit different from our apartments. For our apartments, we require a 30-night minimum so the prices end up being a bit lower since they are long-term clients.” She adds that all housing includes wireless Internet usage, cable access, parking, access to the fitness center and a 24-hour lockout service.
“Our prices are the same no matter which residence hall you book in. The only difference in price at Georgia State is if you require linen service or not,” says Hill, noting this is another area where attendees can save money. While campuses do offer basic services such as housekeeping, guests can bring their own linens to avoid extra charges.
There are even more added features to a campus setting—some that require an extra fee and others that are just another part of the whole package.
Business Centers?“We can create a mini Kinkos if our groups need it,” says Dykstra, noting the flexibility of Georgia Tech to create business centers that assuage any needs a conference group might have—without having to leave campus. The school also offers an open-circuit television channel that can post announcements and event updates.
After Hours Entertainment
At IIT in Chicago, The Bog offers private event space with a bar, recreation center and a bowling alley with eight lanes open for conference guests. The room is also equipped with a stage, lighting and sound system for live music and recreation and gaming equipment for a more laidback, fun environment. “It’s a great option for our business guests because they don’t have to go back to the city to find a post-meeting experience,” says Wright.
At Georgia Tech, once you arrive, you don’t have to drive. “Groups can catch public transportation, which is easily accessible from campus,” says Dykstra. “We also have a fleet of zip cars that can be rented by the hour or the day; and we have a large quantity of bicycles that can be rented for a nominal fee as well.”
“We not only have a great location,” says Calderone of University Center Conference Chicago, “but we’re flexible in hours. Whereas other traditional venues are open only from the standard 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, we’re open seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.”
“We typically do include signage if the group requires any,” says Hill of Georgia State’s additional perk. “We try to make it as easy as possible for the group to navigate through campus and the residence halls.” That includes providing handouts, walking maps and information sheets with further information, plus signage on the buildings that they will be using through- out their stay.
A number of the schools profiled are One-Stop Shop Certified through ACCED-I, and even those that aren’t operate in the same resourceful spirit. “We work with planners to make the process of booking as seamless as possible,” says Loyola’s Stojiljkovic. “If a planner just gives us the dates they’re looking to secure, we can take care of everything else, including the meals, A/V, meeting spaces, housing, itinerary and activities.” Another benefit is having all resources onsite. “We don’t have to go to a third party to rent anything out,” she continues. “That definitely saves us on cost, which we pass on to conference guests.”
Her point resonates with many on the question of why colleges and universities can remain so affordable. “We operate as our own communities,” concludes Wu. “A college campus will have a whole different set of resources than a more traditional venue like a hotel because we are an active academic community. So we are able to offer not only more affordable but more unique spaces and provide the resources of our students who can help service events.”
Georgia State’s Hill seconds, “For a lot of the organizations that book with us, many of them are nonprofits and have strict budgets so they don’t necessarily need the glitz and glam of a 5-star hotel. If planners can get past the fact that they won’t have a queen- or king-sized bed, but will still have the same type of customer service, then a campus is an ideal place that will always save you money.”
What is One-Stop Shop Certification?
This certification program, sponsored by the Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International (ACCED-I) provides meeting planners with an easy way to determine if the conference department of a college or university complies with the One-Stop Shop standards, which ensures the most effective planning experience. These guidelines stipulate that the school must provide:
• One contact through which a planner may secure all university services;
• One contract that covers all services the planner will receive from the university;
• One bill (itemized) for all services provided by the university.
One-Stop Shop Certification shows that a particular campus’ services closely align with the level of service provided by traditional venues and finer hotels.