Meeting the Future on Campus

From controlling the elements to containing carbon footprints to doing more with less, today’s colleges and universities rise to new challenges. What will the next year bring? College Planning & Management reports on some of the latest developments.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

As must be expected, construction has slowed considerably on all campuses, with private institutions taking the bigger hit. “The real expansion has been in the public institutions,” reported George Mathey, principal, Dober Lidsky Mathey. “Some specialized privates — like faith-based colleges — have seen some growth, but that is a small slice of the overall picture.”

Schools may do some planning, but Mathey doesn’t anticipate any major construction projects coming up in the next two to three years. Instead, institutions will attempt to make the most of what they have now by optimizing and enhancing existing spaces. “The environment is still being used to recruit and retain students,” he continued. “So construction won’t come to a complete halt.”

To keep students and families engaged and interested, Mathey predicts that high-profile areas like residential spaces and student life areas will get the most attention. “These are locations that students and families immediately relate to,” he said.

One high-profile area that has seen lots of change is the library. “Libraries are a great place for schools to project a forward-facing attitude,” said Mathey. “It’s less about individual studies and more about group learning.”

Others agree.

“Today’s libraries are the central nerve center for the academics on campus, as well as an important social environment,” said Alison Morgan, assistant director for the information resources center at Xavier University in Cincinnati. “Students still use the space to conduct research, but they prepare presentations as well, and they do these activities in groups.”

“The traditional stacks of book are growing more and more secondary,” agreed Joe Tattoni, principal, Ikon.5 Architects. “Silent, single scholarship still happens, but on a smaller scale. The new model is more of a learning commons with lots of people working intently in groups. Low speaking tones are acceptable, as are coffee and snacks.”

Mathey has seen lots of changes on the community college level, and predicts that trend will continue. “Community colleges are on the front lines of responding to economic changes,” he said. “They are seeing many more students who wouldn’t have considered community college in the past, but now look at it as a viable, low-cost option.”

In response, community colleges are emphasizing residential and athletic experiences, much like a traditional, four-year school. Not quite a full-time, 24/7 operation, they are moving to what Mathey describes as 18/5 model. The institutions are also shifting from vocational experiences to a more high-tech foundation. “Some states are having difficulty thinking about their community colleges in this new light,” concluded Mathey. “I did projects in Tennessee and South Carolina where the government wouldn’t allow the school to develop a residential program.”

Time will tell if that model will change.

Never Call a Snow Day Again?
No, institutions can’t control the weather, but they have taken one step closer as more and more set up online offerings. Taking their cue from the corporate world, where online activities have been common since the late 90s, today’s colleges offer a variety of online services, from classroom components to full university platforms. Schools continue to suffer growing pains from the process.

“It takes a certain skill set to teach online versus in person,” said John Morris, chief technology officer and director of operations for Drexel University, and owner of an e-mail address since the 1970s. “The pedagogical tools are completely different. Professors lecture to no one, and all subtle body language is basically lost.” Students feel the difference too.

“A quiet student who does not feel comfortable speaking up in a ‘live’ situation might have no problem in the online world,” continued Morris. “Also, in a brick-and-mortar building, any discussion you have is lost right after class. An online threaded discussion lives on forever.”

Yet online classes are not for everyone. “People learn differently,” said Morris. “Visual learners like me, or a hepatic (touch) learner, might not do well in this setting.” Because of this, most schools will offer some kind of hybrid class.

It also means that the brick-and-mortar campus will never truly disappear. “There will always be a need for the face-to-face experience,” concluded Morris. “Going away to college is a rite of passage that will never fade.”

Let’s Get Together

Mergers and acquisitions are not a new thing in academics, yet they are growing more complex. In “College and University Mergers: Recent Trends,” a paper by Lesley McBain, senior research and policy analyst, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, McBain gives a snapshot on the process. She finds that, “The common thread is cost savings, but the ramifications — particularly in the case of more intricate mergers — are not only financial, but academic and legal.”

The paper continues to remind those considering mergers by quoting the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, “Most institutions of higher education are corporations established under the provisions of state law, and may have legal responsibilities (holding title to real property, for example) that may require the continued existence of the corporation after the educational activities of the institution have been terminated” (Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2009).

The complications continue from there. Unlike their corporate cousins, schools must deal with special collections, endowments, wills, and trusts. There also seems to be a move to both, “centralization and decentralization, depending on the particular set of institutions, state demographics, and other unique variables involved.”

Yet the promise of savings by eliminating duplication of programs and services makes the ideas of mergers fiscally attractive. In fact, a three-way partnership between the state of New Mexico; Laureate Education, a for-profit higher education corporation; and the private, not-for-profit College of Santa Fe will save the College of Santa Fe from permanent closure. However, McBain cautions against rushing to merge.

“Even during a recession, care should be taken to balance both the budgets and unique missions,” the author wrote. “Potential state higher education mergers must be considered not only in terms of cost/benefit analysis, but what effect they have on states’ educational and public service missions.”

From Bigfoot to Little Foot to No Foot
Reducing carbon footprints is one trend that promises to keep growing through this decade and beyond. From global climate conferences to “scandals” about the validity of global warming data, this hot-button issue remains important for a variety of reasons. “People have real epiphanies about the topic,” said Michael Kinsley, senior consultant, Rocky Mountain Institute. “For the last 27 years that I have been focusing on energy, the ‘best buy’ has always been the best way to go. Now that might be too narrow a way to look at things.”

In the book titled Accelerating Campus Climate Initiatives: Breaking through Barriers, Kinsley and his colleagues met, “people who commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They want action on their campus, and soon. This book goes beyond a focus on best practices or individual projects to help readers solve problems based upon a different way of thinking about buildings, utilities, institutional programs, and all the other components of a campus energy system.”

He reported some delightful surprises, like Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, WI; a commuter campus in a rural, working-class community. “A faculty member wanted to teach wind turbine maintenance, so he bought one and installed it in a visible area,” recalled Kinsley. “That turbine caused the people of the school and town to think differently. They saw themselves as ‘green,’ and wanted to act that way.”

Installing a wind turbine or solar cells may not be the most cost-effective energy solution, but doing so does change perception, and that becomes a powerful driver. Lakeshore’s wind turbine contributes a negligible amount of electricity to the school, yet it has become a symbol of the campus. “It’s something the school and the community are proud of,” Kinsley said.

One energy-efficiency move that faculty and facilities people agree upon is retrofitting buildings with modern controls. “New buildings are hard to justify in this economy, but there is real opportunity in retrofitting giant, antique structures. Many were built during the days of cheap energy, and are huge burdens to operate,” he continued. “Schools are not seeing these projects as a financial load, but an investment. They are even selling retrofits as an attractive endowment opportunity.”

Kinsley happily reported how excited facility departments get when they can work in high-performance buildings. “It’s heartening to see them get jazzed about delivering heat or air with state-of-the-art controls instead of plodding through with old, inefficient mechanicals,” he said. “That dedication and excitement travels through the school.”

Reducing the carbon footprint has even taken on a moral imperative. At Luther College in Decorah, IA, a professor of theology is teaching himself engineering so he can install a wind turbine. “He feels it’s the right thing to do, and he’s taking action,” Kinsley reported. “There are people around the country living and breathing carbon reduction, and it is inspiring.”

Save a Tree, Read a Screen
Kindles, iPhones, and other handheld devices have made e-publishing more and more common. Has that trend moved to scholarly texts as well? Jon Stokes hopes so. In his article on Ars Technica (, he noted that Harvard University Press will publish a selection of 1,000 titles digitally through Scribd (, “the largest social publishing company in the world; the Website where tens of millions of people each month publish and discover original writings and documents”).

Stokes explained why this is a monumental step forward. “…There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem to moving scholarship online. Scholarly publishers, which are central to the all-important vetting and peer review process, don't do digital, and they look down on anything published in a digital format. And that attitude pervades the academic community: scholars still pursue the peer-reviewed printed book as the ultimate CV trophy and turn their noses up a digital, giving the publishers little incentive to experiment with digital distribution.”

Yet he explains why the move may be inevitable. The cost of small-run publishing has skyrocketed, while the financial meltdown continues to decimate endowments. Information and analysis about the selfsame crisis was successfully disseminated using the blogosphere. “Two decades ago, it would've taken a discipline many years to produce as much detailed and useful analysis of such a large, complex event as the finance and economics profession has produced in the last ten months,” wrote Stokes. “Of course, I'm not offering up the collective product of the econoblogosphere as ‘scholarship,’ but rather as a model for what scholarly communication could look like in a few years, after the economics of print publishing have finally deteriorated to the point that the academy is forced to adapt.”

And what about e-books for the undergraduate? “Princeton University did a study where they gave their students a Kindle DX instead of textbooks one year,” reported Dr. John Stemmer, director of library services, Bellarmine University. “Ultimately the students didn’t like them because they couldn’t mark up the text with highlighters and sticky notes, and there were no images to help solidify the information in their minds. However, this might be because these students didn’t grow up in a digital environment.”

Will paper books be replaced with an e-version? Only time will tell, but Stemmer is quick to point out if they did, it would only be an upgrade. “Books are technology,” he says. “They are just 500-year-old technology. Ultimately it’s the content that rules.”

There’s an App for That
Education and industry are partnering at Stetson University in DeLand, FL, with high-tech results. A team of 12 undergraduates, 11 of who were sophomores, created the iStetson app for the iPhone. The app, available for free from iTunes, allows users to access campus events and class listings; and find faculty and staff, as well as what’s being served at the dining commons.

A handful of other schools also have apps in the iPhone store, but iStetson is the only one created 100 percent by undergrad students. “The buzz in higher education is engaged learning, and this is engaged learning at the highest level,” said Bill Penny, associate vice president and chief technology officer at Stetson. “Professor Dr. Dan Plante and I treated the class like a program team. They treated me like I was a customer. They had to develop the app and present it to me in a professional manner.”

The eager students rose to the challenge, going beyond creating a throwaway project that would satisfy course requirements and gaining real-world experience along the way. With a $10,000 grant provided by AT&T for computer hardware and full data service to support the application, the project only cost the school $5,000. “I paid for the phone service during the project,” said Penny. “At the end of the year, the students had to pick up the service fee, but they could keep the phone.” Apple provided development systems and the loan of four laptops for students to use.

Along with the phone, the students left with invaluable experience. The class went so well that it will continue this spring, with students working on modifications and adding social media components like a Craigslist and an interactive events section. Project work like this has gone so far as to change the physical shape of the classroom. “Labs don’t have neat rows of seats anymore, but little pods for group work,” said Penny. “Computers screens are big enough to accommodate two to four people.”

In addition to Stetson, students at other schools — including Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, Michigan Technological University, and more — are creating apps for iPhones in a trend that, like others that are changing higher-education institutions across the globe, is shaping the future for everyone on campus.