Sustainable University Building and Students’ Academic Performance and Wellbeing

Published on January 1st, 2023 in Europe.
By: Piet EichholtzStefan FlagnerNils KokRick KramerSteffen KuennWouter van Marken LichtenbeltGuy PlasquiXudong Sun
Abstract: Academic achievement of students is a major determinant for their subsequent professional careers. Thus, university classrooms should offer optimal learning environments fostering students’ cognitive performance and development. However, university buildings are often poorly ventilated and in need of renovation. Past studies have shown that poor indoor environmental quality in terms of the thermal environment and air quality impairs cognitive performance. This study uses a quasi-experimental setup to investigate the effects of a sustainable university building on students’ academic performance and wellbeing. We randomly assigned a sample of about 1200 first-year Maastricht University bachelor students in economics and business into a control and treatment group. The treatment group had their four weekly 2-hour tutorials in a newly renovated building certified with the WELL Building Silver Standard. The control group stayed in the old building, which has been in service for the university since 1976, with the most recent renovation in 2002. In each of the tutorial rooms, we measured indoor temperature, relative humidity, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), fine particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) during two course periods from November to December 2022 and from February to March 2023, each lasting seven weeks. We recorded the grades, the course evaluations, and student survey responses on their perception of the indoor environment during each course. Each tutor taught classes in both buildings, allowing a natural tutor-fixed effect. Preliminary results from the first period showed that CO2 and VOC concentrations were significantly lower in the certified building. No substantial differences in students’ grades were found. However, students reported a better mood, a higher satisfaction, and believed that the certified building had a positive impact on their performance. Contrarily, they reported that the lighting conditions and noise levels of the certified building hindered their performance. The next step will be to incorporate the data from the second test period examining possible longitudinal effects. All data collection will be finished by the end of March 2023, and we will do the remaining analysis and the paper write-up in April and May.
Keywords: Cognition; Green Building; Indoor Environmental Quality; Well-Being
Date: 2023–01–01