Campus Forever?

Northrup reversedIt is hard to find anyone who thinks his or her own undergraduate campus will cease to be.  It is as if these places will go on forever.

At a recent SCUP conference I asked attendees to tell me why their campus would or would not exist in 2040.  One said their campus would morph into a “multi-purpose innovation / business / research park”.  All the rest said their campus would survive – at least until 2040.

The reasons fell into four categories:  too big to fail, enough demand, adaptable enough and unique mission.  Can this be right?

To survive, campuses must be more than a collection of familiar physical artifacts and stage sets for live action reality shows.

  • To be worthwhile they must operate faster and be student-centered.
  • To be affordable they must be right-sized and carbon neutral.

None of these objectives is simple or easy.  Achieving these goals is difficult enough for small private colleges, and probably impossible for large public universities, but the proper direction to move is clear.

Institutions and their planners should start with three questions and then implement the logical consequences:

  • What do we have now that we can do without?  Get rid of it, sooner rather than later.  It costs too much to keep unneeded buildings, and it is the antithesis of sustainability.
  • What should the campus be in 10 years?  Not a question of want, this is a question of need; and
  • How can we leverage everything we do to increase the value of the education we provide to today’s student?  Chart the facilities trajectory of the campus as if your institution’s survival depended on it.  It does.

No place will be perfectly fitted to its mission.  No place will be carbon neutral.  No place will ever be fast enough.  No place will be exclusively student-centered.  Those institutions that move toward these ideals have a chance for their campuses to continue – if not forever, at least beyond 2040.

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