Not your typical
The luxurious Villanova
Conference Center in Radnor, Pa.
Maybe it’s nostalgia
or just tight budgets, but many groups happily forego the amenities
of full-service hotels and conference centers to sleep in dorms and
meet in university classrooms. “As it becomes harder to negotiate
some amenities and room rates that were easier to get a couple of
years ago, other options become more attractive,” notes Deborah
Blom, executive director of the Fort Collins, Colo.-based
Association of Collegiate Conference and Events
Meeting on campus, however, isn’t just
for penny-pinchers, nor does it necessitate compromising on service
or quality. The university conference centers at the head of their
class, so to speak, are indistinguishable from the best corporate
conference centers anywhere else in the country, with overnight
accommodations to match, according to Tom Bolman, executive vice
president of the St. Louis-based International Association of
“I don’t know a real discernible
difference between university conference centers and other types of
centers,” Bolman admits, regarding the top echelon of campus
facilities. In fact, university facilities comprise between
one-quarter and one-third of IACC’s membership, he estimates.
Of course, the quality and scope of
university conference centers can vary dramatically, and the best
can be as expensive to book as any corporate conference center.
They can be run as for-profit or nonprofit ventures, managed by
university personnel or by a third-party hospitality management
Planners have the ability to mix and
match accommodations, perhaps booking classrooms as daytime meeting
rooms and nearby hotel rooms for overnight stays, to avoid shared
bathrooms or dorm rooms at some schools.
“Universities tend to have everything a
meeting could possibly need,” Bolman says, referring to facilities
such as gyms, computer or science labs, or performance spaces that
groups can use, not to mention professors who might agree to appear
as guest speakers. Schools are generally willing to allow the
client to customize packages, he adds.
Following are six university conference
centers that reputedly are among the best the country has to offer,
with dedicated meeting facilities and on-site (non-dorm) overnight
MIT’s Endicott House
in Dedham, Mass.
MIT Endicott House at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Southwest of MIT’s Cambridge campus,
the MIT Endicott House, built in the style of a French manor, was
gifted to the university more than 50 years ago. Set on a secluded
25-acre estate designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the mansion with
its executive conference center exists within the atmosphere of a
rural retreat yet still is convenient to Boston’s urban
The mansion includes 13 individually
decorated guest rooms to allow guests to live for a night “as if
one of the Endicotts,” says general manager Mike Fitzgerald. An
additional 24 guest rooms, in a distinctly modern style, are
available in an adjacent building.
The IACC-certified facility, which
features an extensive collection of antiques, paintings and
artifacts, primarily caters to boards of directors and executive
groups -- clients who expect the kind of services available
at four-star hotels, Fitzgerald says.
The mansion has eight meeting rooms
that total 7,800 square feet, which can be outfitted with the
latest A/V equipment. The technology isn’t built in, because it
“contradicts the nostalgic sense of the house,” Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is particularly proud of his
48-person staff, all MIT employees, several of whom have worked at
the mansion for more than 20 years. The facility has never been
contracted to a management company, because MIT wanted to “maintain
that personal touch and have employees committed and dedicated and
loyal to the MIT mission,” Fitzgerald says. That mission, he
explains, is nothing short of excellence.