Published on 2012/05/11

Better And Faster Teaching Delivery, Or Continuing The Crisis Of Campus Real Estate?

Campuses are becoming less and less relevant, and taxpayers need to step in to decide whether they are comfortable funding expensive upkeep when online options are cheaper, more accessible and increasingly popular. Photo by Jen Light.

Recently we all were shocked by the behavior of the leadership and staff of the U.S. Government Services Administration (GSA) in wasting taxpayer money and flaunting their ability to do so.  Seems to be commonplace behavior among  many of our overpaid federal employees in the news lately. What really struck me, as it did to others, was the number of empty or partially empty buildings and facilities we taxpayers own and pay to maintain under the GSA’s watch.  Some facilities have been empty for decades, yet we continue to pay to build new government buildings.  The question is why and how do we get rid of this cost burden when commercial real estate is in the tank as well?

Then I realized that we may have a similar “meltdown” with taxpayer campus facilities down the road.  Over decades college campuses and university systems have expanded generously while tuitions  and maintenance costs have risen faster.  Some are very palatial due to a sense of competitiveness for students and student athletes.  When someone mentions  Auburn, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or  Penn State, we all have an impression of large campuses with signature architecture, student union halls and dorms.  It’s a lot of real estate which we largely don’t equate to the situation we now are in with government owned and commercial buildings.

Let me be more clear. It is certain that pressure to learn faster and reverse the trend of our ailing education system to turn out a higher percent of technically and business ready graduates will steadily increase.  With higher high school dropout rates and higher college tuitions we will have fewer “on campus” students.  Fewer freshmen are opting for loans they are burdened with the rest of their lives when higher paying jobs become scarce.

The increased use of web-based interactive technology with PC’s, Smartphones and tablets will further dilute campus facilities in favor of distance learning methods delivered at a much lower cost.  The net affect would dramatically reduce the amount of physical footprint required by most campuses now maintained with taxpayer dollars.

It would seem that our university systems might want to organize around the realities of the changes in how and when learning is delivered and measured.  It also seems obvious that a different framework of formal learning be designed to evolve to rather than trying to resist change which will only exacerbate the invariable.  There is no doubt the demographic shifts in size and make up of global labor pools and the exponential growth and capture of information will drive some of the change factors needed from educators and educational institutions to keep pace.

If this be true, why not get out in front and lead the charges necessary rather than wait for the crisis that is sure to come?  I know there are many opinions, some supported by sketchy facts, on the subject.  Most get tangled in global warming, politics and the status quo.

Corporate Universities are mainly geared as a stop gap measure.  The courses and agendas will largely focus on the supply chain of future leadership needs in their organization rather than a litany of choice to back fill what should have already been learned.

But don’t you believe that the institutions which are heavily funded by tax payers and supposedly the centers of excellence, research, art, creativity, etc., that we entrust our minds to at great cost should recognize and lead the tsunami that is surely coming?

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