View from the Board Chair: What Will Become of the College Campus?

By David K. Hendrickson    //    Volume 21,  Number 5   //    September/October 2013

Every time over the last several years that I’ve been asked to vote to approve the renovation or construction of a new building, I wonder: Will this facility be necessary 15 years from now? Given that the delivery method for education is being altered dramatically by the technological changes of the last two decades, it is not absurd to consider whether college campuses will exist in the future as they do today. While some professional and technical degrees may not be suited for or available online, many popular degrees and courses of study are accessible without ever leaving the comfort of your home. What this holds for the future of the traditional brick and mortar campus is a guess at best.

This shift in education delivery has caused institutions to rethink and reemphasize recruitment and retention and sometimes to change the footprint of the college campus. For some institutions, adding new structures is the right answer; for others, taking the online approach is the way to go.

In West Virginia, which ranks 48th in the nation in per capita income and 45th in degree attainment for adults age 25–44, Shepherd University has done a little of both. On the main campus in Shepherdstown, they are investing in new buildings as part of the long-range master plan. Since 2004, the institution has built two residence halls, a contemporary arts center, a nursing building, a wellness center, and a baseball press box. The building of new residence halls is part of a plan to move eventually from housing one-third of undergraduate students to 40 to 50 percent, putting Shepherd in line with other institutional members of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), of which it is the state designate.

In addition, this past summer, Shepherd opened a satellite adult learning campus in Martinsburg, about 30 minutes from the Shepherdstown campus. There, a hybrid education model is being used, with classes offered on evenings and weekends, primarily online (but with some on-campus component), and geared largely toward graduate students or adults seeking to complete a degree. Shepherd’s president, Suzanne Shipley, has likened the difference between the campuses—one more residential, the other with “fewer whistles and bells”—to worshiping in a cathedral vs. worshiping in a store front. “Neither is better,” she says, “they’re just choices that didn’t exist before.”

Making the Shepherdstown campus more residential rather than more digital was a deliberate choice of the board and institutional leadership, said Gat Caperton, chair of the university’s board of governors. It’s part of a plan to create more learning opportunities for students and more space for them to interact with other members of the university community. “We believe that the on-campus part of a liberal arts degree is important,” he said. “It’s a critical part of the educational process and it imparts great benefits to students.”

That’s my feeling too. Our state is committed to improving graduation rates. We’ve implemented the Promise Scholarship, providing those with qualifying high school GPAs and entrance exam scores with a partial scholarship to any state public institution. Programs target school-age children to increase their likelihood of attending college. We are reducing the time needed to complete degrees and have enacted a state-wide program for those who “stopped out” but now wish to obtain their degree. More initiatives must be explored, including a hybrid approach with the first two years of core education online and the remaining on campus. I believe that when you pursue and obtain your degree, you learn a great deal outside the four walls of the classroom—that is part of the classic college “experience” that leads to growth and maturity. But the economic pressures facing families today prohibit some students from physically attending their preferred college. The financial incentives of taking online courses may lead to the creation of a two-tiered college education offered by traditional institutions. Those who have the financial means will attend the college of their choice on campus, while others will have to settle for obtaining degrees online. While this may emerge as an increasingly valid method of obtaining an education, the added individual growth obtained by attending class on a campus will be lost, and that’s a tradeoff that can’t be measured strictly in dollars and cents.

Explore more on this topic:
The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.