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The Residential Campus Experience is Magical

Charlie Anastasi
June 28, 2024
6 mins

This originally appeared in our monthly LinkedIn newsletter, Rize Up. Subscribe here.

Last month, I experienced the best day of my life and got married. 

One particularly memorable moment was walking down the aisle and making eye contact with so many people who have positively impacted my life. As my eyes scanned, a common theme was unavoidable - I met many of these people during my time at college. One of my college roommates actually introduced me to my wife. 

At that moment, the value of my college degree felt infinite. And it had nothing to do with the skills I acquired, the jobs I’ve landed, or an increase in my earning ability. It was the memories, the friends and the bride. I would’ve emptied my bank account to ensure that moment stayed real. 

For me, and countless others, the residential college experience was magical.

Preserving the Magic

I actually used the phrase “The residential experience is magical” to a higher ed colleague recently and they were surprised I felt so strongly about in-person experiences.

After all, Rize helps colleges grow their online course catalog and focuses heavily on the importance of economic ROI. On the surface, we don’t seem like the kind of organization that would fervently trumpet the value of being on a campus.

However, a belief in the residential campus is foundational to how we’ve built Rize (even as we continue to power more fully-online programs for non-traditional students).

So I think it is worth resolving this surface-level contradiction by sharing some of my core beliefs about what the college of the future will look like, as well as how those beliefs have shaped Rize:

  1. I believe that in-person experiences can be highly valuable, but for an increasing number of students, the cost to obtain a residential degree now exceeds the expected economic value of that degree (1). I believe in the non-economic value of college, but I do not believe it is a sustainable value proposition or worthy of debt financing.
  2. I believe that in-person experiences can be highly valuable, but for an increasing number of institutions, the cost to deliver a residential degree now exceeds the revenue generated to deliver that degree to a student. The math isn’t working on either end.
  3. I believe that to keep in-person experiences accessible and valuable for both colleges and students, the future for small colleges is hybrid. I believe that the strongest institutions will intelligently integrate their physical campus and face-to-face instruction with online options. These institutions will preserve the best parts of their face-to-face community while using online to increase access to high-value degrees, improve flexibility and convenience and decrease their average cost of instruction and attendance.
  4. I believe that failing to leverage online may lead to the closure of residential campuses that have created magic for thousands of alums.
  5. Lastly, I don’t believe the residential experience is right for everyone. I am thrilled that the quilt of American higher education is increasingly providing fully-online, accelerated and affordable pathways to high school graduates. But I believe it would be devastating if the residential experience became a luxury good reserved for those with means.

Rize’s Approach

What do these beliefs mean practically if you are a partner or prospective partner of Rize? Rize aims to help partners more affordably and flexibly deliver academic programs that (i) increase enrollment, (ii) deliver premium student experiences and (iii) create meaningful career outcomes. 

We believe our model must successfully blend in-person and online throughout this continuum and we’ve built teams and services to support this blending process.

  1. Increase Enrollment: We believe the marketing message to prospective and current students must transparently and proudly focus on the best of both worlds - in-person and online. We believe that the primary value of a new hybrid degree could be to attract new students, but it could also be to make an existing on-ground degree more differentiated. We believe that students will increasingly demand the flexibility, convenience and quality that partial online learning provides. We believe that colleges who embrace and market hybrid optionality as a value driver will outperform. And so we built an enrollment consulting team, as well as content and strategies that help our partners execute on these beliefs.
  2. Deliver Premium Experiences: We believe academic plans need to intelligently sequence and blend online and in-person courses. A recent survey showed many students want to take 3 or more courses online each semester, but we believe there are reasonable limits to how many online courses a residential student should take (and that the number varies depending on student profile). We believe on-ground advisors need to have visibility into a student’s online courses. We believe that students must be taught how to succeed while participating in dual modalities. And so we built a partner success team, curriculum plans, advisor guides, automated student reporting, assessment data reporting, student support professionals and an instructional design team.
  3. Create Meaningful Outcomes: As students begin career exploration, we believe career services offices must be confident in supporting hybrid degrees. We believe that students who can succeed in hybrid learning are more likely to succeed in a hybrid workforce. We believe local partnerships and employer relationships are critical, but hybrid programs can expand access to internships and mentors. We believe that local alumni networks are powerful, but students often need to be pushed to think about careers early and often. And so we explicitly built career exploration and navigation into the curriculum, we developed subject-specific advisory boards with industry professionals, and we recently launched pilots for internship & mentorship solutions.
  4. Ultimately, we believe the hybrid experience must feel intelligently built-in, not hastily bolted-on.

There aren’t many products that past consumers would describe as magical. So it is striking that a product so revered by many has become the object of intense scrutiny by future students and families.

The great thing is, I don’t think it will require a miracle to preserve the magic. The college of the future will look different than the past, but I believe hybrid campuses can uphold the most beloved components of a campus experience while extending its value and reducing costs for students and institutions alike.

There is no experience I’d rather try to pay forward!

(1)  Potentially controversial footnote: I think we do a disservice to future progress by relying on the Georgetown study that states a college graduate makes ~$1mm more in earnings over their lifetime. If you adjust for what major a student pursues, the probability that student graduates and the opportunity cost of going to college, there is thoughtful research that suggests many students do not generate a positive economic return. As Preston Cooper notes, the focus should not be on if college pays, but when college pays.

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