Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The 21st-Century Campus

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The 21st-Century Campus

Article excerpt


IN THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION now underway, the metaphorical walls and gates that have defined higher education are falling down. The literal walls and gates, the physical campuses, will need to be rethought to avoid a similar fate. They may be beautiful, historical, and evocative, but these attributes will not be sufficient. Those places that do not add educational value, even though beautiful, will become the American equivalent of the grand country estates of England, museums of a faded golden age.

For those who view the shared experience of the traditional campus as essential to authentic higher education, this is a critical time. Maintaining business as usual and failing to adjust facility trajectories soon enough will put institutions at risk.


Until recently the need for a physical campus was based on several assumptions:

» Physical class time was required

» Meaningful exchanges occurred face to face

» The value of an institution was tied to a specific geography

» Books were on paper

» An undergraduate degree required eight semesters

» Research required specialized locations

» Interactions among students and faculty were synchronous

These assumptions are now either obsolete or optional. As a result, physical changes are beginning to be made. Classrooms and libraries are being retooled. Student housing and the campus are evolving in response to social media and changing use patterns. From classrooms to libraries to residence halls, digital transformation is changing the physical presence and requirements of institutions that choose to remain competitive.

Some observers of the challenges to higher education believe that there is nothing new. They argue that colleges and universities have gone through multiple periods of change and transformation since their emergence almost 1,000 years ago, and each time institutions have adapted and survived. True enough, but each time the institutions that survived were forever changed.

This time, change is being driven by competition, technology, and political conversation. In the United States institutions are faced not only with declining public financial support, but also with questions of legitimacy and cost-effectiveness. They have survived such situations in the past, but the only competition then was less education-not more, not differently delivered.

Competitors are everywhere. They take many forms from the much-maligned for-profits to nonprofit providers like edX, Minerva, and Western Governors University; the "nationalized" institutions Southern New Hampshire University and Liberty University; corporate partnerships with Arizona State University; more cost-effective community colleges; digital course/service aggregators; emerging alliances; courses developed by corporate partners/textbook publishers; and any number of start-ups promising the next big thing. Most traditional institutions have already mobilized to enrich their online offerings for their on-campus students, preempt "cherry-picking" from the competition, and expand enrollments with nontraditional students.

Even though many competitors may eventually fail, they should not be seen as fads. We should see them as merely the latest forms in a process of digital transformation that has been underway for less than two decades. The imperfections of current forms can be seen as opportunities for improvement. From verification of student identity to modularization of course structure, from mentoring and meaningful interaction to on-demand scheduling, improvements and refinements are being made with entrepreneurial speed.

Until recently, conversation and speculation about the digital transformation of higher education focused on pedagogical and technological innovation in the rapidly evolving hybridization of classroom and online experience. Such discussions were largely confined to traditional forums like the Chronicle of Higher Education and its ilk. …

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