The Evolution of Higher Education Campuses
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our daily lives and routines. It has uprooted individuals and families around the world and has caused significant angst without a clear picture of what the future holds. Every industry has been impacted in some way, including higher education.
As a designer, I’ve served higher education clients exclusively for nearly 30 years, and I was personally inspired to act the moment institutions began closing their campuses and implementing online-only instruction. However, rather than developing a preconceived solution to solve the challenges related to the pandemic in higher education, DLR Group opted to understand the situation and the ramifications from our client’s viewpoint. It was critical we maintain rigor to listen to stakeholder and end user feedback on the situation at hand so we could design and deliver appropriately.
Over a two-week span in April, DLR Group professionals implemented our 360-degree engagement process to gain a holistic understanding of what our clients are and will be dealing with as we navigate post-pandemic. We conducted more than 125 personal one-on-one conversations – via Zoom of course – representing 85 institutions, including community colleges, and four-year public and private institutions.
Individuals we spoke with include:
- vice presidents of finance & administration
- vice presidents of planning design & construction
- vice chancellors
- campus architects and planners
- directors of auxiliary services
- directors of residence life
- directors of dining
We asked questions like:
What is the number one challenge you are facing related to this pandemic? Is virtual course delivery here to stay? How might the current situation be a catalyst for positive change? How does this pandemic impact our environmental footprint?
The conversations were rich and deep with emotion, reality, and personal point of view.
I heard repeatedly from students that they want to return to campus as soon as possible. The on-campus experience is so important to students and they miss those intentional and non-intentional social interactions with their peers and professors. However, students must be prepared for a new campus normal when they return, and many noted that they are willing to accept a hybrid solution that combines both online and in-person learning. I also heard loud and clear from institutions that higher education is long overdue for an overhaul, and now is the time to move the needle.
The breadth and detail of qualitative data we captured is impressive. I’ve only mentioned a fraction of what I heard during my conversations in my comments above, but we have more to unveil. Over the next few weeks DLR Group design and planning professionals will dig deeper into our findings and share creative solutions to those challenges that institutions are facing both short- and long-term. Some of the topics we’ll cover include equity and the new student; a laser focus on design; transformational planning; the impact to our carbon footprint; student life; and resiliency.
I firmly believe the pandemic, while grave in nature, represents an opportunity to improve the higher education system. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and embrace the evolution of campus. It’s a win-win for all parties associated with higher education.