Four Objectives to Integrating Retail on a College Campus

Colleges and universities facing fierce competition for the best and brightest students, as well as faculty and staff, are going on the offensive. While academic and financial considerations remain important, schools have learned that other factors are becoming even more important. The quality of life inside and out of the classroom, combined with campus amenities and sustainable design, are deemed not just perks but priorities. To address the demand for an improved user experience, college administrators are bringing popular retailers, restauranteurs, and service providers onto their campus in combination with the walkable, mixed-use trend spreading across urban and suburban America.

Campus users want it all: sustainable design, spaces to gather with friends and colleagues or enjoy a quiet respite, and all within a convenient distance from where they work, study, and play. But attracting retailers and meeting the demands of higher education facilities can create facility design challenges, including balancing the needs of academic usergroups with operational requirements critical to commercial tenants and/or food service providers.


Programming is the foundation to nearly all design projects. This is where the users and the design team will work together to identify who and how the spaces will be used. The communication between the campus’ stakeholders, tenants, and the design team is particularly essential during programming when integrating retail to ensure all of the project goals are met. Some key objectives to consider are:

1. Ensure the retail experience supports the academic tone of the campus. Retailers generally want to advocate for ways to maximize their branding opportunities. However, the campus’ own branding goals are also important and the College/University’s designer should be able to provide solutions which balance, negotiate, and satisfy all users.

2. Harness and focus activity and energy, so that it is a positive experience and mutually beneficial.

3. Provide a seamless academic experience for the student/customer while maintaining separation of operations between the school staff and the retail staff.

4. Find opportunities to provide flexible, common spaces servicing multiple functions.


Several San Diego colleges and universities have successfully incorporated mixed-use developments on to their campus. For example:

MESA COMMONS CAFETERIA AND BOOKSTORE acts as a campus hub and includes retail components relative to food service and a campus bookstore on San Diego Community College District’s Mesa Campus. The new facilities replaced an outdated institutional cafeteria which made it challenging to provide a diverse and varied menu appealing to today’s palates. The new food services provide a variety of food stations with the flexibility to create an endless variety of offerings much like you would see at a retail center or “food hall” model. The program also includes administrative offices servicing multiple departments (Culinary Arts, Campus Reprographics, and Campus Storage). The inviting outdoor common spaces feed into plazas and quads reinforcing its strong connection to the rest of campus.

SOUTH CAMPUS PLAZA capitalizes on a mixed-use concept to intermingle student living with convenient and attractive market/retail/restaurant options at San Diego State University. Their model is based on statistics which support the idea that students who stay on campus thrive both academically and socially. Retaining more people on campus would also undoubtedly boost sales for campus-run stores and food-service departments as well.

PRICE CENTER MULTI-TENANT RENOVATION is one small step in a master development to revitalize the heart of the University of California, San Diego’s campus. The campus bookstore which currently occupies two levels is being consolidated into one level. This will make room for a popular major retail tenant on the second floor which will take advantage of the constant flow of traffic next to existing food service offerings and vice versa.

Mixed-use projects are not a new trend in the private sector, as developers have long recognized the need to create a tenant mix that provides mutual benefit. Supporting environments which encourage people to linger longer also increases chances for utilizing businesses. So it is only natural to see the incorporation of retail or mixed-use components into education projects in more direct ways than ever before to meet the discerning and ever-changing tastes of the public consumer.

SGPA has been serving the education community as a design partner by factoring in current trends at the forefront of mixed-use, retail, residential and education design and planning needs which facilitate a dynamic user experience. Rooted in over 50 years of experience and through the cross-pollination of staff and concepts of our diverse studios, we are well-equipped to offer design solutions that meet the needs of today’s higher education facilities while accommodating for future pedogogy, technology, and career needs.

SGPA consists of more than 50 professionals in San Diego, San Francisco, and Fresno California. We are excited to successfully develop diversified design solutions that attract both tenants and students/instructors to your campuses by focusing on enriching life through design.

Posted in: Education Retail