A study conducted by the University System of Georgia found that its buildings are only in use 25 percent of the work week.
The University System of Georgia’s buildings are empty about 75 percent of the work week, a study conducted by the system has found. The findings have already prompted some system building projects to be halted and other universities to consider similar studies on their own campuses.
According to the study, which examined all 31 of Georgia’s public universities, the low use may be because of the way most residential campuses condense the school day to fit between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
As a potential solution, the researchers suggest forgetting about those “peak hours” and spreading the classroom use throughout the day, aiming for the buildings to be used 40 hours per week.
The findings could be used by advocates of online learning to suggest another alternative: focus less on physical learning spaces.
“Some institutions have run into something like this,” said Russ Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. “They may be growing a lot but they’re landlocked. It can be so expensive to buy space downtown, for example, so schools have started going to blended learning and renting out places.”
While the study has reportedly resulted in some building projects in Georgia being put on hold, space utilization is not always a major consideration when colleges build new academic spaces.
If a university is creating a prestigious new school, it’s not uncommon to hope for a new building to house it.
See Page 2 for how a new classroom building can be like a free puppy.
To prevent the addition of unnecessary buildings, should colleges more strongly consider making new programs online-only, or at least blended?
“That may already be a trend perhaps in the community colleges and perhaps in the regional ones,” Poulin said. “But prestigious colleges still want to build monuments to each of these programs. They often get the funding for the new buildings from donations, but then it falls on the institutions or state to fund the upkeep forever. It’s sort of like the idea of there being no such thing as a ‘free puppy.’”
Even if universities cut back on building new spaces, they still have to deal with the under-utilized classrooms they already have. And enticing students to take classes on Fridays and at 7:30 in the morning is not going to be easy.
The same problem can exist when students take summer courses.
Twenty colleges and universities in Minnesota have reported that 40 percent of summer course credits they grant are now earned online, which has resulted in a sharp reduction in housing and classroom use.
Poulin said schools could consider charging different prices for classes that are at less convenient times much like some energy or airline companies, though he admitted that could be a complicated and troublesome process.
“But they may have to do something to provide those incentives,” he said. “It’s hard to beat the convenience of an afternoon class, or, in the case of an online alternative, not even going to that building.”