Over the past two years, I have enjoyed watching my daughter go through the process of selecting a college. In addition to the typical criteria of the reputation of the school, curriculum, teacher/student ratios, and chances of employment after graduation, I was surprised to discover the extent to which the school’s facilities influenced her decision. For example, the top school in the country in her field of study got the ax because of the lack of investment in classrooms and the cinder block 225-square-foot dormitory rooms. Her final selection of the Savannah College of Art and Design was largely based upon the overall energy of the campus.
This made me think about the role that facilities play in the academic experience and the associated opportunities for the construction industry. The schools that will thrive over the next 50 years will be the ones that have invested in the atmosphere of the campus. This experience is greatly defined by the architecture. The investment in the restoration of traditional historic structures and the development of new vibrant buildings is going to be a critical success factor for both public and private educational institutions.
I submit that the post-high school educational sector is currently at a turning point. Schools are facing more challenges right now than ever before in history. Tuition rates have risen 1,120% since the 1970’s and over 50% of graduates are either jobless or underemployed. For the first time I can remember, people are seriously debating about whether a college education is worth the investment. Add to this depressing statistic that fact that enrollment in higher education has declined over the past ten years and will remain stagnant through 2024. These serious collegiate challenges have inspired a new documentary on America’s struggling colleges titled, “Ivory Tower ,” that was recently released.
Some might think that the best strategy under these threatening times would be to hunker down, cut faculty, and eliminate programs to survive the financial strains. Many schools have resorted to these strategies just to stop the bleeding. Although this strategy might provide temporary relief for the bottom line, it won’t be successful in staving off other educational competition. The specter of online educational programs is growing by leaps and bounds. In a study from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, an estimated 14 percent of students are enrolled in fully online programs, while 30 percent of all college students take at least one online class. If the bricks and mortar campuses don’t take a proactive approach to the future, they might be joining the likes of Borders Bookstores and Blockbuster.
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