Inside Higher Ed, The Future of the Physical Campus:
Even as most colleges and universities proved over the last 17 months that they could function adequately and often effectively with their people physically dispersed, many students and employees hankered to return to their campuses. The vast majority of institutions plan to operate this fall more like they did in 2019 than they did a year ago, but that doesn't mean their leaders aren't rethinking how they might use their physical spaces in the years ahead.
Few are confronting the questions as directly as the University of Akron, which announced in February that it would consider selling, repurposing or otherwise rethinking the use of up to one million of the roughly eight million square feet of buildings and land it owns. COVID-19 didn't start the conversations at Akron, which were driven in part by enrollment and financial pressures. But as is true in many corners of our lives, the pandemic accelerated the university's discussions.
A recent episode of The Key, Inside Higher Ed’s news and analysis podcast, examined Akron’s approach and larger questions about the future and value of the physical college campus. While this conversation focused on how colleges and universities might use their campus spaces as their needs and those of their students evolve, it also explored the ability and inclination of colleges to adapt to changing circumstances. ...
The Key: There's obviously lots of talk about remote work and talk about reshaping the learning environment such that possibly more students study in realms other than in a physical classroom. How do the institutions you work with view those possibilities?
Nathan Mortimer, Vice President of Operations at Akron: I think everybody is very excited about the trends and scratching their heads about how do we change, not only our spatial utilization, but what spaces we own, what spaces we operate, where those spaces are. I spoke last week with a law school dean who has a state-of-the-art law school. And he wanted to pick my brains. He wants to open a second law school at the same university, and that law school is going to have a lower price point. It's all going to be remote, except for the kind of minimal communal aspects of learning law. It will be a very small building, right? Students will come to it maybe twice a semester, or four times a semester. Can you imagine that -- a university with two law schools? So people are really trying new things. ...
I think the real value of being in a learning culture physically in place is all the ad hoc critical dialogue, all the spontaneous interactions, what we call learning outside the classroom. And, ideally, we should still have that. Higher education should be focused on being in a place, but I think what we have ask, do I have to be in that place 24-7? Do I have to be in that place for the whole semester? Can I say, hey, this semester it's just freshmen, right, who are on campus? And this next semester, it's seniors. And what does that do to the efficacy of learning and teaching?