Leveraging higher education real estate assets as a strategy for success

April 2022

Stagnant public investment and concerns about the cost of higher education have led innovative institutions to seek new revenue sources.


Like many institutions, Arizona State University (ASU) needs new revenue streams to fuel growth and meet stakeholder demands. To generate this income, the university made more productive use of its land as a strategic asset. Equally important, this effort enabled ASU to advance its mission, charter and programs. The use of partnerships has been key to the success of the ASU model, elements of which can be leveraged by a broad range of colleges and universities.

Key Insights
To meet the responsibilities outlined in its charter, ASU must generate revenue from a broad base of mission-related activities.
A “dual bottom line” of economic returns and mission realization is the focus of ASU’s real estate development strategy.
ASU determined that far greater economic opportunity and mission alignment could be achieved by retaining ownership of the land and, in most cases, the buildings and other physical improvements thereon.
A fundamental component of the university’s real estate development strategy is to employ long-term ground leases to strategic partners who bring additional value stemming from their areas of expertise.

ASU has developed a new model for the American research university, one committed to the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves. In this paper, the university’s treasurer and CFO describes a key component of the model: strategic use of real estate assets.