Is traditional undergraduate campus building space being made less necessary by online education? Yes.
The growth of online education is depressing the need for the brick and mortar of campuses just like online sales are reducing the need for retail space. In fall 2015 the scale of the undergraduate impact was 12 Arizona Statesor52 Harvards.
So far more than 23 million square feet of traditional campus space has been obviated by online education. This space is existing and unbuilt.
Existing – excess space that is no longer needed; and
Memory has been tethered to place by human evolution. Campuses have been among these places for more than a thousand years.
The Question As students and teachers swim further into the digital stream of online education and simulated reality, will place continue to matter?
This question has taken me far beyond the disciplines of brick and mortar. Higher education, sociology, cultural anthropology, student life, academic business, learning analytics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence have all been on my reading list.
My research is not complete, but my tentative conclusion:
For centuries, campus has been part of the standard paradigm. It has always been there – a setting, not a participant. The future of the campus in the learning enterprise depends on being re-designed to be an agent, a necessary supportive ingredient, not just being there.
What are the Uber or Airbnb equivalents of the university? These are the questions Tom Fisher thinks campus planners should be asking.
We are at the trailing edge of six decades of campus facilities expansion. The resulting mix of assets can be a rich foundation on which to rebuild and right-size sustainable institutions, or part of an unsustainable burden that helps to sink the rest.
In a recent interview, Fisher argued for rethinking many of the assumptions of the physical campus.
The campuses we have inherited are way too big. I know that seems odd, because when you are on a campus everyone is crying for more space, but we have a lot of highly specialized space that goes under-utilized…the faculty office being one of the more notable ones. Increasingly faculty are carrying their office in their laptop and cell phone. So this idea of having a room set aside for yourself is really antiquated. Classrooms are changing. They will still be used, but the whole campus is a teaching environment. The whole city and region is a learning environment.
In the regulated monopolies of cable television, the consumer has little choice and gets the full bundle. In the emerging landscape of higher education, the consumer has many choices. From the piece-by-piece approach of DIY-U, to traditional institutions adding MOOC’s to hybrid models such as Minerva, conventional business models that depend on old-fashioned bundling are under threat.
Buying college used to be like buying cable – to get the degree you wanted, you had to buy courses, schedules and features you didn’t want. Higher education bundling requires additional payments without direct personal benefit, just like paying for 500 TV channels when all you want are local stations, ESPN and Comedy Central. Cable is still bundled, but the unbundling of higher education is gaining momentum.
Objective measurement of the costs and benefits of higher education will drive part of the unbundling process. The rapidly evolving array of on-line options is enabling unbundling and fostering further pedagogical innovation and experimentation. Employers are looking for talent beyond degrees, and accrediting organizations are not keeping up. Many of the current full bundles will look like bad investments of time and money. Continue reading →
Higher education is living in interesting times, no matter where you stand.
Two accounts from Australia, one from an academic and the other from a consulting firm, provide a clearer view of the future of higher education than is possible when looking through an exclusively American lens. Continue reading →
It 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?