Beyond Job Creation: A Case for Investing in America's 21st-Century Educational Capacity and Facilities

By Lothan, Avram | University Business, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Beyond Job Creation: A Case for Investing in America's 21st-Century Educational Capacity and Facilities


Lothan, Avram, University Business


TODAY'S JOBS MEAN NOthing without tomorrow s education. To be sure, stimulus dollars should be deployed to create jobs now. But that deployment also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the expansion of our nation's educational capacity and facilities.

On the one hand, Congress stuck to its historical pattern of short-sightedness in its passage of the recent stimulus spending bill by omitting from the final legislation $6 billion originally set aside to upgrade higher education facilities. Yet there is a silver lining, in the form of a large pool of money to be distributed to states, which still can choose to invest this money in higher education infrastructure. States should be encouraged to make this bold choice by funding programs that prepare students for the jobs of the future.

The historic scope and costs of the current stimulus plan demand that the long-term benefits to productivity, capacity, and intellectual capital be measured over the time frame it will take to pay for the investments. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make structural investments in the human capital and academic infrastructure of our nation's institutions of higher education. This emergency is too great an opportunity to squander on short-term investments that create little long-term value.

In my experience designing buildings for colleges and universities, I've identified three areas of higher education that can benefit from new government investment: (1) sustainable design to reflect an increasing need for better environmental stewardship, (2) infrastructure and facilities to support 21st-century pedagogy, and (3) investment in financial aid to develop our nation's greatest natural resource: human capital.

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GREEN INVESTMENTS

Sustainable design initiatives are the most obvious place where capital investment today will yield measurable cost savings and long-term operational efficiencies. Investing in energy-efficient fixtures and equipment will pay immediate dividends in savings from reduced energy and water use. Though there has been significant investment in higher education over the past 20 years, the investment has not been evenly distributed across the entire landscape of campus facilities.

Many colleges and universities now boast state-of-the-art laboratories or residence hall facilities--but are drawing steam or chilled water from central plants that date back to the 1950s or '60s. New energy-efficient windows and boilers are vital contributions to the sustainable profile of a campus, but the generational upgrade of campuswide power and HVAC infrastructure must also be evaluated. This investment holds perhaps the greatest opportunity for structural changes that support a more sustainable future for campus environments.

SUPPORT FOR CURRENT PEDAGOGY

The demands of 21st-century pedagogy represent an area where many institutions have not made adequate investments and are currently following trends rather than leading them. One example of such a leading trend is a project we are completing for the College of DuPage (Ill. …

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