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Fifteen years ago, Peter Drucker and others began to predict the demise of the physical campus.  It was to become yet another relic of an era bypassed by technology.

Yet today it is hard to find anyone who thinks his or her own undergraduate campus will cease to be.  It is as if these places will go on forever.  Can this be right?

At recent SCUP conference at the University of Illinois, I asked attendees to tell me why their campus will or will not exist in 2040.  Only one said their campus would disappear - as it morphed into a “multi-purpose and dynamic innovation/business and research park”.

All the rest said their campus would survive – at least until 2040.  The reasons fell into four categories.

Too big to fail – The value of history, brand and tradition is significant; at least in the eyes of those who are alums.  There is no doubt in the inertia created by generations of investment and reinvestment.  This pattern creates loyalty and a relatively high profile in the competition for attention and funding.

These major institutions are like aircraft carriers, very hard to sink and very hard to turn.  Making even the most modest of adjustments takes a very long time and by its nature is disruptive.  For example, continuation of existing, but withering programs may contribute to the breadth an institution but it also decreases the funds available for reinvestment.  Yet these programs usually have constituencies that argue for retention and fight changing priorities.

Enough demand – “There will always be a demand for the experience it offers.”  This is a business argument.  The market is taken to be big enough and selective enough to allow continued survival - whether by the location, academic reputation, marketing prestige or campus ambiance.  This theory will be tested as the percentage of traditional 18 to 22 year-olds continues to drop over the coming years, even if the cost of that experience is some how stabilized.

Adaptable enough - Some see their undergraduate institution as being nimble enough to respond to a changing environment.  Either through leadership or access to resources, many believe survival beyond 2040 will lie in the ability to adapt rather than “…keep things the way they are.”

Unique mission – Those from smaller private schools believe their campus will survive through the uniqueness of their mission - their founding reason for being in the first place.  Of the four categories, this alone makes an argument that survival will lie in the realm of values, in the concept that something is being accomplished beyond a business proposition.  We can hope that this idealism survives but it is less than certain.

Perhaps all of the attendees were right.  Their institutions will survive.  Maybe it is only those schools that are not big enough, unique enough, desirable enough and adaptable enough that will not make it to 2040.

Forever is an implicit assumption in every institution’s mission statement.  This belief in a survivable future runs so deeply that least one attendee thought the changes now underway were just another pendulum swing.  Her campus “will change its priorities to meet the changing needs of students, but the pendulum will swing back to face to face interaction.”

I do not see the future of higher education allowing a return to an exclusively pre-digital information age.  I see a ‘both/and’ world.  There will be increasing reliance on digital educational formats.  And there will be retention of traditional face-to-face interaction, but only when it actually adds value to the student.  Sorting out this balance will not take forever.  

 campusmatters.net

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Tags: Digital, transformation

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Comment by Michael Haggans on October 25, 2012 at 5:43pm

Terry,

That is a terrific idea, particularly since the publication is almost coincident with the Drucker (and others) prediction.  Not surprisingly, some of the technical references are out of date, but consider the following from page 48 of Transforming Higher Education:  

"...(T)he Information Age learning revolution will be fueled and enabled by four related capabilities:  1)  the ability to deliver network scholarship anytime, anyplace, and on any subject; 2) the capacity to tailor educational services to individual learner needs; 3) the ability to measure performance outcomes to certify successful completion; and 4) the ability to pass intellectual property rights and receive payment on an as-used or value-added basis."

Items 1, 2, and 3 are rapidly maturing aspects of the transformation now underway.  Institutions are now scrambling to deal with the Item 4.  This summer's dustup at UVA is just one example.  The recent University of Texas System move to join edX was described, in their own press release as motivated, "to retain revenues" from on-line education.

...so I think you are on to a great idea.

Comment by Terry Calhoun on October 25, 2012 at 3:30pm

We're talking right now about doing a several weeks long MOOC in the Change-Disruption Mojo next quarter, that would use SCUP's 1995 book, Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Ce..., as way to step back in time and view the last 17 years not only from now, but as we viewed it nearly two decades ago.

Comment by Terry Calhoun on October 25, 2012 at 3:22pm

I kind of like the phrasing of "sorting out the balance won't take forever," Valarie. I wonder who's doing the best work right now at predicting how long it will be until the balance is settled? Or how we will know?

Why don't you pose that on #CFHE12, Valarie?

Comment by Terry Calhoun on October 25, 2012 at 3:11pm

I have learned a lot from reading Peter Drucker. I remember reading this when he first wrote it: "Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won't survive. It's as large a change as when we first got the printed book."

At the time, I thought to myself that this may be something he doesn't fully understand. That's too short a time frame for institutions with huge fan bases to become relics.

Well, we're halfway to his 30 years, which would be 2027. Is his prediction just a little off on the amount of time it takes, maybe it will be 2040, or are our institutions resilient enough to sustain themselves?

Personally, I wish everyone could live on or near a campus ...

Comment by Valarie Avalone on October 25, 2012 at 1:37pm

Michael:

It brings to mind the Toyota commercial where the young person thinks her parents need to get a life because they have only 19 facebook friends -- she sits at her computer, while they are out interacting with friends.  Let's hope we can find the balance.

Comment by Michael Haggans on October 25, 2012 at 1:17pm

Valerie,

I agree with your definition of the challenge - preserving what is best about our institutions.  However, I sometimes find it difficult to identify those 'best' characteristics without sounding nostalgic and all rah-rah.

Perhaps everyone can identify those few special conversations with a mentor that have influenced our lives, those moments of insight that have dotted our academic careers, and those enriching experiences that we have shared with classmates or colleagues.  Up until quite recently these events always happened in a specific place and 'real time.'  That does not mean that it must always be so.

While we are sorting out what courses will/should migrate to the digital domain, those of us who are engaged in the campus as place, need to sort out those events and experiences that will still require 'real place and real time.'  Only these will provide a reason for the campus to continue to exist.  Are things like the rez hall experience, enriching study group, 'live' class interaction and the roar of the sports event essential?  Perhaps, but certainly some of these traditional markers can be dismissed as expensive luxuries.  Some students will always be able to afford them.  Most will not.

The next several years will see a 'shake out' as institutions with less viable business models become less able to provide education and the 'luxuries.'  Deciding the campus characteristics that must be preserved will be part of meeting the existential challenge.

Comment by Valarie Avalone on October 25, 2012 at 11:42am

Terry:

As we have seen in the MOOC on the future of higher education, change is coming whether we are ready for it or not.  Most of us couldn't have predicted how technology has impacted the past 10 years so it's challenging for us to stretch our thinking to 2040. However, as you said, sorting out the balance will not take forever.  The challenge will be in preserving the best of what are institutions are today as we adapt to survive in the future.       

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