Making Room: How the Rise of Online Education Will Affect Community College Real Estate

Students Students at community colleges can now learn from anywhere at anytime, providing real estate opportunities for the institutions. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The phrase “community college” is one of those dyads we take for granted, not really thinking much about what it means. It is a signifier for a smaller, usually non-residential school with unconventional hours made up of non-traditional students. But its real importance comes when you take the two words apart and focus on the “community” side. A community college is a place that is both part of and an aid to the community. It draws regionally, from neighbors and coworkers, and its life comes from the strength of the community.

So the question then becomes: what happens when that definition changes? As online education become more common and as community colleges embrace a more far-flung student body, will they still be considered a community? Reacting to these changes in a positive way can help these institutions both reduce their physical real estate and expand their global reach, and with it, change the idea of what a community can be.

Online Education and Community Colleges

There is no question that community colleges are having a moment. In January, the Obama administration announced a plan to make it easier for people to afford tuition and encouraged schools to embrace a vocational pivot. This entails making classes more applicable to the workforce, giving students a practical, as well as (and not opposed to) a rounded liberal education. With the rising costs of traditional universities, community colleges have an important role to play in the future.

Of course, that future is more and more remote. Online education is becoming increasingly important to schools as a source of students and revenue, and to non-traditional students whose lives don’t allow them to travel to a campus or take a full load of classes in any given semester. This isn’t limited to big universities – community colleges have seen an expansion of their distance learning programs, as well.

As you’d expect, it’s been pretty much a straight line upwards, increasing by nearly double-digit percentage points as the decade has progressed. In fact, from 2010-2011, online enrollment outstripped physical enrollment in community colleges (though that number has since leveled out). Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, two-thirds of enrollees in remote learning classes are women.

These classes help fit in with the vocational pivot. While some people may study the classics or take fascinating history classes as part of a distance learning curriculum, many are focused on practical education. Some of the top majors through online education for community colleges include forensic studies, criminal justice, accounting, business management, and, of course, programming. These are all hands-on skills that students can use to start or advance their careers, under the auspices of a caring and committed community college program.

Converting Your Community College for the Future

There will always be classrooms, and there will always be professors who walk between the desks and deliver gripping lectures. Students will always have a home, as well they should. But the rise of online education and the ability of smartphones, tablets, and apps to conduct learning are having a profound impact on the physical structure of community colleges. Here are a few changes:

  • No need for huge lecture halls for presentations. You don’t need a big screen for everyone to see. Students can download a presentation and follow along with their laptops or phones. This is a great way to save space.
  • Classes can be consolidated. A professor can teach in multiple schools and multiple rooms at once (especially with the rise of telepresence robots).
  • Extra classrooms can be converted into hands-on learning spaces for engineering, manufacturing, and computer science, which will aid in the vocational pivot.

This will allow community colleges to consolidate space, and possibly even sell off some of their excess land, which allows for a reinvestment in the technological prowess it will take to keep up with changes and deliver students the education that will help them compete in the 21st century. It’s a dramatic reinvention of the community college – it isn’t just a physical place, but an idea that can bring together people from all over the world.

However, maybe it isn’t that dramatic a reinvention. The idea of “community” has always been just as much in the mind as in a legal definition. It’s a way for people to come together and to join each other, regardless of where they came from. If you’re here, it says, you’re part of our community. The whole world can now join your community college and can be a part of who you are. You just have to be ready to let it in.

If you are a community college looking to consolidate space and reinvest in your future, you don’t have to go it alone. You can get a thorough analysis of your real estate assets from a consultant whose community values align with your own. Contact DCG Real Estate today to learn more.