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Pflugradt: My walking tour of Innovation Campus

"If I were a high school senior, how would I prioritize the luxury buildings on Innovation Campus and stand-alone retailers like Starbucks?"

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Wichita State is all about catering to prospective students with an emphasis on new age, luxury amenities. President John Bardo talks highly about what Wichita State has to offer, so WSU was proud to offer Kansas Board of Regents members a tour of Innovation Campus last week.

I visited Wichita State for a campus visit in the spring of 2015. My wandering led me from the direction the wayfaring signs pointed and onto the displaced Braeburn Golf Course.

Nine holes of golf isn’t an amenity prospective students care about, the university decided, and the upkeep of Braeburn Golf Course abated.

The golf course had closed before my visit. Walking along what remained of the path, I saw sights of age-old sand pits and remnants of a few tee boxes. This was my first experience of Innovation Campus.

Friday night, I walked along a similar path on the developed extensions of Innovation Campus.

Two-and-a-half years later, remainders of the golf course are a distant memory — excluding the golf ball I picked up Friday, which miraculously outlasted the innovation.

The course’s entrance is now home to the original Pizza Hut building, lined with brick edging around the surface. In the distance is the nearly completed three-story Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center, and fencing blocks off the sights of future projects.

The path continued on, with openings at The Flats and Airbus, before finishing at the state-of-the-art Experiential Engineering Building. I’ve seen the sketches in President Bardo’s office, and, in some respects, I’m eager to see what they come up with.

Soon, there will be a 123-Element Hotel, a YMCA, a strip mall of retailers, and restaurants overlooking the view of a decorated lake along Perimeter Road.

Wednesday, WSU requested that the final eight acres of land that made up Braeburn Golf Course — owned by the state of Kansas — be transferred to the university so they can maintain consistency in the transfer of land titles for Innovation Campus.

The Kansas Board of Regents will likely vote in favor of this motion in an upcoming meeting. If approved, WSU can more easily reach Bardo’s goals for the next phase of Innovation Campus.

Wichita State is not the first university to construct an “Innovation Campus” — these are popping up nationally, and have been for years. As I walked, I questioned why we need Innovation Campus.

There’s coffee at every corner of campus. Why does Wichita State need a stand-alone Starbucks?

The two-story Heskett Center has new exercise equipment. Why does Wichita State need a small-scale YMCA?

The golf path on Braeburn Golf Course wasn’t pretty. The dirt-covered sidewalk had cracks, and weeds lined the edges. The path is now attractive — and soon enough, it will be accentuated by a YMCA facility and a strip mall of restaurants lining the lake.

This is what university administration think will attract the next generation of students.

Also this week, KBOR approved the merger of Wichita Area Technical College and WSU. WATC becomes a division of WSU on July 1, and the 3,500 students enrolled at WATC will count towards WSU’s enrollment numbers next fall. WSU has fallen short of their enrollment and retention goals, yet they continue to press for an enrollment of 22,000.

Even with the addition, WSU has work to do to attract more students.

If I were a high school senior, how would I prioritize the luxury buildings on Innovation Campus and stand-alone retailers like Starbucks?

By the time I visited WSU as a junior college sophomore, I had all but completely decided I would attend the university. WSU had the program I wanted, the courses I desired, experience-based opportunities I would explore, and the kind of people I thought I could mesh with.

In truth, nice buildings and an image-focused Innovation Campus never meant much in my mind. For me, it’s never been about the buildings.

Students who choose a college for its amenities don’t pick WSU. Wichita State has never competed in this facet — and the challenge to attract new prospects is an arms race the university cannot truly compete in.

College is about the people and the opportunities. That’s what will draw students and drive up enrollment opportunities.

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