Ten years isn’t all that long in the life of a university, but, with the current rapid rate of change in higher education, it only makes sense for Kansas University to take some time to evaluate where it should be headed in the next decade.
To that end, KU and a group of hired consultants have begun the process of creating a new master plan for the university. The discussion will address university facilities but is envisioned to go beyond that to address such topics as sustainability, transportation and student achievement. In a KU news release, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said the master plan process “is a special opportunity, a time to set forth an idea for a modern research institution …”
In other words, it’s a time to get creative and think outside the box. It’s an opportunity to not merely tweak the university’s goals or decide where the next building will be built but to really look at the changing landscape of higher education and what the campus of the future should look like.
In initial forums last week, the university’s consulting group began to gather ideas from the public ranging from putting more electrical outlets in classrooms to the unlikely prospect of creating more hills for sledding. One of the consultants, however, identified two major themes in the planning process: the promise of further expansion on KU’s West Campus and the need for KU to prepare for shifts that new technology will create in higher education.
One forum participant expressed concern about the loss of “pristine habitat” on West Campus, but it seems there’s another reason to question the assumption that the physical footprint of KU’s Lawrence campus needs to expand significantly into that area.
One of the consultants noted the current trend in higher education toward “flipped” classes that combine online lectures with small in-person discussion groups — a trend that she implied means that the university may already have more large lecture halls than it needs. Consultants also noted that while about 99 percent of KU classrooms are used during peak times (midday on Tuesdays and Thursdays), only about two-thirds are used during times of lower demand (such as Friday).
Both of these observations seem to indicate that the key element of planning for the future of the KU campus may not lie in building new buildings on West Campus or anywhere else, but in making better use of the space it already has and developing the university’s use of technology in the educational process. It might be helpful to put more electrical outlets in classrooms, but the real challenge for the university is to try to figure out how it and other institutions of higher education should be using technology in the next decade to better serve their student populations.
KU is a beautiful campus, but, a decade from now, the stature of any university probably won’t be measured by the quality of its physical plant. Now is the time for KU officials to think beyond the scope of a traditional university campus and figure out how to direct limited resources to the technological advances that likely will be the key to KU’s future success.