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In the last several years, colleges have been criticized for their climbing walls and lazy rivers, which signal to some too much spending on nonacademic matters.

Wait until those critics hear about the latest trend: concierges for students.

New Mexico State University’s nearly one-year old concierge service -- the Crimson Concierge program -- offers students everything from help booking vacations, to, for an extra fee, doing their laundry.

New Mexico State relies on a popular vendor among colleges and universities, Sodexo, to carry out Crimson Concierge, and the company said it intends to expand to other institutions.

“We are very aware of the fact that a large percentage of students are making their ultimate selection on schools that really can fulfill the ‘college experience,’” said Steve Bettner, assistant vice president of auxiliary services at New Mexico State. “Places that have amenities.”

Forbes in a column over the weekend declared New Mexico State’s program “the only one in the country,” which is not the case. High Point University, a private institution in North Carolina, has since 2007 operated a concierge service even more expansive than New Mexico State’s. The author of the Forbes piece, Christopher Elliott, the founder of a consumer nonprofit, praised the concierge service as a way to alleviate student stress.

Bettner said that to appeal to new students, New Mexico State realized it needed to be more competitive with other institutions with flashier offerings. Without the immediate budget to improve some of the buildings that were a half a century old or more, administrators settled on expanding its dining contract with Sodexo to include the concierge service, the vendor’s first. It launched in January.

After a slow rollout, the program is being much more aggressively marketed toward potential students, Bettner said. It is paid for not through university funds, but instead through partnerships with outside companies and charging a fee or commission on services students obtain through the concierge.

The concierge will research travel plans both locally and abroad -- the Forbes article highlights a student who helped plan his entire trip to southeast Asia (completely unrelated to his academics). Crimson Concierge also finds and makes dinner reservations, locates events in the area, and, for a little extra money, cleans and folds laundry and does housework.

Both students and their families have loved the program, which is housed in the university union, Bettner said. One of the staffers there is referred to as a “mother away from home” who “would do anything a mother would do,” which delights parents, Bettner said.

He acknowledged the criticism in academe of too much focus on facilities and not on academics, but said that this will help remove a “to-do list” for students and help them focus more on their studies.

“This significantly contributes to improving [graduation] numbers,” Bettner said. “That’s the goal that will bear out over time. We’re using this as a tool to help students through their matriculation and graduating on time.”

Ronni Schorr, global vice president of marketing for Circles, the part of Sodexo that administers the concierge program, said in an interview that the program doesn’t coddle students, but merely helps improve their lives. This benefits both international and domestic students, such as those who may be from out of state, Schorr said.

“They are the future leaders and they are very stressed,” Schorr said. “They have a lot going on their lives. Often they are going to college and university not in their home area, and getting acquainted with the area … and we want to relieve some of the stress they might feel.”

Schorr said Sodexo intends to expand to other institutions, but declined to name them given that contracts are not yet signed.

At High Point University, the concierge handles phone calls to the university and communications with parents and gives students free rides to the nearby airport, as well as travel reservations, said Lyndsey Derrow, the chief concierge. It also sponsors some programs that might be more traditionally housed in a career center, such as taking pictures for a LinkedIn profile or teaching communication skills.

In addition to the six full-time staff members, the concierge service also employs students to teach them more about the hospitality industry, Derrow said. She declined to say how much money the university devotes to the concierge.

Derrow said that the concierge service has contributed to 96 percent of High Point graduates landing a job within six months after they graduate -- she said that some critics will conflate “being nice,” as the concierges are, with handing out A's in the classroom.

“We want to be that resource for them and feel fully comfortable,” Derrow said. “We want them to feel like they can go to us for answers.”

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