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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

How higher education could survive this pandemic

As summer ends and fall school enrollment looms, the question of how higher education will endure. For years, remote learning has slowly eaten away at bricks and mortar establishments but the Pandemic has accelerated the change. We need to deal with this as more than a passing calamity, but as potentially the future of higher education.

Online university education is nothing new. Schools such as UMass, University of Florida and even Penn State have offered diplomas for over 30 years. 33% of college students have taken at least one online course. After all, the internet creation was a collaboration of multiple universities and the Defense Department.

How does business treat online-earned degrees? A survey of executives by showed that 83% said online degrees are as credible as a traditional campus-based program.

Today’s challenge to bricks and mortar schools is bigger than ever. Trust in America as the World’s pinnacle choice of higher education is stumbling. The cost of a diploma at American private schools keeps climbing. Enrollment across the nation is expected to drop at least 10% and the loss of international students that pay handsomely, but can’t travel here, has cut major funding resources.

The big question is, why pay for something you can get online?

For our colleges and universities, the challenge will be adjusting existing spaces both for social distancing and competing with online Edu. Here’s an architect’s thoughts:

· Today’s colleges are designed to overwhelm the individual and students feel lost in a crowd. This can be less conducive to interaction and collaboration on smaller skills.

· There’s a need for individualizing and breaking down both class sizes and teaching modes.

· Monster expansion projects should be shelved for now. Facilities should look to building inward, not up or out. Renovating and repurposing should balance public areas and intimacy.

· Take advantage of outdoor classrooms, well after this Pandemic.

· Improved ventilation. (This is a column by itself)

· Include more natural light to improve the learning experience.

As a young architect, I’ve always believed that more classroom natural light made for better education. However, I was recently in an elementary school where the shades were pulled down with very low lighting so students can work on their laptops, a big mistake. The more windows, skylights and clerestories, the better the learning experience.

One of the most important necessities is to ramp up technology for enhanced distance education, including more than improved Wi-Fi and high-speed connections. This means becoming broadcast centers for education.

Here are a few considerations to meet the new challenges:

· Consider mobile and portable video equipment for preparing unique presentations: Think “docu-drama”.

· Prepare a film/video studio with green screens

· Provide focus editing rooms for students and instructors to make videos and multimedia inserts to augment course presentations

· Outfitting classrooms with hybrid video conferencing capabilities for virtual and personal instruction.

· And, don’t forget: high-quality audio.

Here’s my two cents: Collages and universities need to entrench themselves more into their communities beyond the sports razzle dazzle.They should become cultural and social hyper-centers, indispensable to the life and breath of its region. That’s what I tell my interns: “Make yourself Indispensable.”It works.

Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB

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