Let’s look at the data. More than 25% of college students are taking at least one course online. Paring that down to traditional 4-year undergraduates, the equivalent of more than 400,000 full-time students are not in the classroom. This is the equivalent of 8 Arizona State Universities or 40 Harvards.
Classrooms, Offices and Study Space – This reduction in the need for seats translates into about 8.2 million square feet of classroom buildings. Estimating the ripple effect for other types of campus space requires a number of judgment calls.
Does the online student need study space on campus? Does the online teacher, usually an adjunct, need a campus office? Do administrative offices grow or shrink? How about the student union and rec center?
Sorting through these questions and reviewing the data, I’ve concluded that across the country, more than 18 million square feet of non-residential, non-research building area has been made unnecessary because of the digital transformation of higher education. This is just for the 4-year undergraduate institutions.
Impact – The impact can be seen as: 1) excess capacity – existing space that is no longer needed; and 2) space that need not be built, as online enrollments grow.
Methodology – My estimate is based on public sources such as the NCES database for distance enrollment and publications of the Society of College and University Planning. A link to my methodology is here in pdf form. I welcome your comments and questions.
I don’t believe the impact is zero. It is becoming measurable. What do you think?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.