Bizzaro Campus

With the fiscal crisis facing campuses, many operational systems and services that previously may not have normally undergone much scrutiny during the budgeting process, are now being re-assessed: do these services still provide the value they once did or are they still required–and if not–can they be eliminated? Some of these discussions have become popular throughout higher education, resulting in ideas such as: eliminating or reducing land-line phone service in the residence halls as students with cellular phones increase; moving email off campus to third-party services like Google or Live@edu, or; closing academic computer labs in recognition of the growing number of  student-owned laptop computers. It is interesting to consider how the services offered in these three examples have shifted over the years from innovative to key-differentiator to industry-standard to indifference to wasteful.

Thinking a bit about this, I wonder what other mission-critical services and systems currently found on campus will soon be dismissed: and I ended up with the campus itself.

In order to make this point, let’s pretend that the college campus as we know it today never evolved–rather the dominate model for education was home-schooling and distance-learning, based on practices related to correspondence schools. Instead of students packing up and heading off to school, institutions sent students all of their required educational materials to their home. I am sure folks who currently home school their children, as well as the growing number of adult and non-traditional learners attending institutions of  higher education remotely through learning management systems, can offer much better reasons as to why this approach is actually better than the traditional residence model than I can. However, as that is a topic for another discussion, and I am only trying to illustrate an alternative world that could have evolved other than the one we know today, please allow me a little latitude and let’s pretend that the college educational experience is remote, distributed and independent and facilitated by virtual and personal learning environments and the various technologies, tools and techniques associated with today’s Internet-based learning communities.

Imagine then–as these on-line universities forge ahead delivering education–someone in the administration proposes to develop a residential campus. Imagine the discussions that might take place at the various cabinet, departmental, division and faculty meetings:

So wait, you are proposing that the college build a whole city for 10,000 students, including: apartment buildings for them to live–with all of the accommodations they would need like phone, cable, network, etc.; buildings with rooms to hold classes in various sizes, seating arrangements and presentation/educational technologies; dining areas and food courts; parking lots; recreational facilities; and then hire thousands of additional staff to serve the students and maintain the facilities–who will also need all sorts of services and accommodations?

Consider the total investment required to build, maintain and extend a physical campus, versus those costs associated with providing on-line education. And, if you can remove your personal bias cultivated from your own experience within education as a student and/or faculty/staff member (for me that’s seven years as a undergrad and graduate student and twenty working in higher education on a physical campus), consider how you would react if you were in that meeting taking place on a virtual campus, and someone proposed developing a residential campus.

So, and I know I am not the first person to question this, where is the campus itself on that scale from innovative to key-differentiator to industry-standard to indifference to wasteful?

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