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Connecting on Campus

As leaves crunch, footballs fly and bands march, we pine for college days. One way to get back to campus is by holding a meeting at a college or university, many of which offer conference facilities that are on par or even superior to those found in the private sector. 

As the International Association of Conference Centers points out, college meeting venues have a lot to offer: attractive settings, tons of recreational and cultural options, the latest in technology and reasonable pricing.

Meeting on campus can also be a way to invest in education, as money from conferencing ventures is often reinvested in college programs and research.

Here are five college conference programs to consider.

Calling All Conferences to AT&T/UT Center

A leader in technology and one of the country’s largest universities are partners in a conference center that capitalizes on the innovative city and energetic campus that surrounds it. 

Compared with most conference centers, the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at the University of Texas, Austin, is mammoth, with 85,000 square feet of meeting space. Its many small meeting spaces range from 145 square feet to 1,600 square feet; the center also offers private dining spaces and a fixed-seat auditorium for 300. A pair of ballrooms, one 10,000 square feet and the other 15,000 square feet, each have ample adjoining prefunction space, one brightened by a 4,000-square-foot mural. The center and its inn, with 276 guest rooms and 21 suites, wrap around a tremendous courtyard and are walking distance from downtown Austin’s music venues, restaurants, museums, the state Capitol and the Longhorns’ football stadium.

Lakeside Resort Meets College Campus

The Clemson University Conference Center and Inn in Clemson, South Carolina, looks and feels like a resort plunked down next to a college campus. A terrace alongside the conference center takes in views of Hartwell Lake. Walk out the door, and there’s the school’s 18-hole Walker Course, the No. 1 college course for 2021, according to Golfers Choice. Views from 62 guest rooms and 27 suites at the inn are of the lake or the golf course. Inside, the center is a great mix for groups that want to break into smaller sessions, with four meeting rooms, two seminar rooms, a 120-seat auditorium, an executive boardroom and a divisible 5,660-square-foot ballroom — some 17,000 square feet of meeting space in all. Clemson’s orange and blue school colors create a surprisingly appealing decorating theme.

Views of Blue Water and Bobbing Boats 

If a water view and a short walk to a sweet town sound tempting, give the Hagerty Conference Center at Northwestern Michigan College a try. The center sits next to Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, so blue water and bobbing boats are its neighbors. Traverse City, one of northern Michigan’s most attractive and popular tourist destinations, is handy for dining, shopping and accommodations. Meeting spaces include a divisible 5,800-square-foot ballroom with a wall of windows aimed at the lake and a prefunction space and an entrance foyer, both handy for trade shows and receptions. The center and neighboring Great Lakes Culinary Institute and Maritime Academy wrap around a large courtyard, which opens to the bay. Culinary graduates sometimes migrate to jobs at the conference center. Although it’s not accepting new business for 2021, the center is booking meetings for 2022 and beyond.

Student Center Serves as Town Square

College student centers often feel like a town square nestled under one roof. Like a small town’s main street, you will find banking, restaurants, a bookstore, coffee shops and other services. Many colleges go one step further and add a town hall element by incorporating meeting spaces in their students centers. 

The Nigh University Center at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, near Oklahoma City, has done so in a significant way, with 37,000 square feet of meeting space in its 25 meeting rooms. Among the spaces in this full-service conference facility are a grand ballroom for up to 500 guests and a courtyard for outdoor events. Guests can shop at Barnes and Noble or order espresso at Starbucks. From indoors, the views of campus include an adjacent pond and its lively fountain.

Florida School Capitalizes on Technological Strengths

For a decade now, Florida State University’s Augustus B. Turnbull III Center, near campus and the state Capitol in Tallahassee, has been known as a technology leader, noted for features like a 30-by-10-foot, 40-panel video wall. Now, in light of the pandemic, the center has turned its attention to helping plan virtual and hybrid events. Its website offers a number of case studies that describe how it has consulted with various organizations as they shifted from live to virtual or hybrid meetings. In addition to a computer lab with two 65-inch high-definition screen displays and 22 computer stations, and a full-service video studio, the center has an auditorium, a dining room, breakout rooms, an atrium and an executive boardroom. Parking can be reserved in an adjacent garage.