Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Whither the Brick and Mortar University?

Mike Munger asks whether brick-and-mortar higher education is disappearing, and say no. His answer relates to something I think is very important, which is that universities are social.

An online degree, an online dating service, a professional sports team in your city, and a proficiency certificate from Microsoft are not a la carte alternatives to a college degree. It is quite possible that the result will be positive, overall, with far more efficient, inexpensive online alternatives operating alongside more streamlined and well-thought-out in person experiences on the college campuses that remain.
The point is that the social aspects of higher education cannot be replicated online. We actually do have a lot of courses all-online or hybrid, so those things can be alongside each other on the same campus.* But there is so much more going on.

Ironically, it is very common to hear complaints about what Mike frames as the "student union," referring to organizations and even buildings that bring students together. They're a waste of money, the lament goes, and that money should be spent on something more strictly related to academia. Set aside the point that at a university like mine, the costs are often captured in student fees and not operational funds, which means they money wouldn't going elsewhere--it would simply not be given at all. Instead, it is useful to consider these organizations and spaces as things that make students want to be here physically rather than just online.

The truth of the matter is, UNC Charlotte is a really nice place to be--I wouldn't have stayed here this long otherwise. The campus is an inviting place and there is a lot going on to bring students together. I think students want to be here if they safely can. Higher education is not strictly the classroom.

* Some people want online-only because of work and family commitments. We're trying to help with that too.


The Shadow 3:52 PM  

I have to agree with you on this. I'm a Cal grad ('81) many years ago now. They didn't offer a Latin American studies degree at that time so I pursued a Social Studies degree (a horrible choice) but it allowed me to take a number of Latin American courses across all disciplines which were very valuable to me. For example I took a senior thesis history course under Woodrow Borah. What a fantastic course and teacher. I had two quarters of this. I think there were only 4-5 students at the time and we did this in his office. I also had various course by Prof Halperin (what rabbit holes we went down on Argentine history). The geography department was equally important. Professor Parsons was very good as well as another one, much younger but he spent a lot of time in Nicaragua. Anthropolgy was another department, but the Professor there was a little too mcuh on the side of GEN Velsasco. You can't do this stuff on-line. I don't care what you say.

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