Online Impact on Campus

ImpactIs it possible that online courses will have no impact on the future of the campus?

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?

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One thought on “Online Impact on Campus

  1. I completely agree… the impact is not zero. The difficulty is that we are still in the infancy of high-quality online education. Even though it has been around for over a decade it has not been entrenched in pedagogy. There will continue to be growth in how the online classroom is developed and consumed. The ubiquity of digital interface has grown significantly in the last decade alone. As the digital education components become more refined and better suited to the needs of students/teachers the impact on physical campuses will be even greater. I do not think that digital/online education will take the place of the physical campus but it will necessarily alter it. The most interesting (that I know) example is the Minerva Project. That will tell a lot on the direction of the relationship of online education and campus environment.
    Thank you for your blog and posts… I always enjoy reading your insight.

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