How to free up more space on campus for better in-person services and experiences.
More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges across the country are still struggling to establish a “new normal.” Even as teaching and on-campus operations have resumed, institutions are finding they cannot simply return to the pre-pandemic status quo. After months of online learning, students have new and evolving expectations of how colleges and universities should operate in an increasingly digital world.
Spurred by the continued disruptions resulting from the impact of COVID-19, many colleges are evaluating hybrid approaches that marry the best of virtual and in-person education. But the hybrid model does not need to be limited to learning only.
Student services can also be more effective as a hybrid initiative. This does not mean that facilities or in-person experiences are doomed to disappear altogether. Far from there.
A radical overhaul
It is about creating a more flexible and efficient system, with the use of digital tools easing the load on campus staff, resources and space. This enables institutions to better deliver important on-campus student support services that are uniquely suited to in-person delivery, allowing them to have an even greater impact on the student experience.
The SUNY Polytechnic Institute leadership team explored such a transformation long before the pandemic. We knew we needed a way to serve our growing hybrid student populations, and we knew that digital course materials are a crucial part of improving affordability and accessibility in an era rapidly defined by virtual learning. .
Over the past few years, SUNY Poly has collected feedback from students, faculty, and administrators. It became clear that we needed to complement our physical campus store with an online course materials platform.
This change meant we could radically rethink the campus bookstore and reinvent its purpose. Last year, we completely stopped selling physical course materials on campus. Today, SUNY Poly students can easily find and purchase their course materials online, while the bookstore building serves as a hub for a variety of services benefiting the campus community.
Our decision to adopt this new bookstore model was initially driven by student affordability. According to US PIRG, cost prevents 65% of students in the United States from buying all their necessary textbooks. By moving to an online storefront, we can provide students with more choices. They can choose the format that best suits their learning and financial needs.
Our online course materials platform leverages technology to assist faculty with adoption selections, ensuring on-time adoption submission and better-prepared students. This is especially helpful in ensuring that our population of students who do not live on campus have the same access to course materials as students who live there. All in all, this means we can remain a trusted resource for students to find course materials at affordable and competitive prices.
The online course materials platform, created by Akademos, has been helpful in expanding access and improving the accessibility of course materials, but it has also had a surprising and impactful side effect. The hybrid format has allowed us to reduce the footprint of textbook sales on our campus, creating more space and capacity for critical resources better delivered in person.
Finding a careful balance
With input from several student affairs units, we have completely redesigned how to utilize a high-traffic area in the heart of campus. Our on-campus store always offers a well-stocked selection of the brand name merchandise required for students, staff and alumni. But, with the amount of space freed up by not selling textbooks, the building now also provides a dedicated location for our campus pantry, which we are proud to offer, alongside all other public universities and colleges. of New York State.
Our previous version of the pantry was smaller and located out of the way. We’ve seen foot traffic to the pantry increase dramatically since moving to the building formerly used for selling books. In addition, the building has been transformed to accommodate several offices, as well as community spaces. This will include a dedicated space for our campus esports team where they can congregate, play video games and recruit new members. Our students approached Auxiliary Services with a request for such a space, and thanks to our new hybrid model for the store, we were able to happily respond.
Space is increasingly in demand on college campuses, but it may not need to be much longer. In an analog world, the mailroom should be the mailroom. The bookstore must include physical books.
But in a digital and hybrid world, that may change. Some resources can easily become digital, and can even be enhanced by doing so. This in turn frees up more space for services and experiences best delivered in person, such as academic support, food assistance and other basic needs, and places where students can congregate and interact with each other. with each other after such a long period of separation during the pandemic.
By striking a careful balance between digital and in-person resources, institutions can design a new hybrid student experience that is much better suited to the varied needs of today’s students.
John M. Reale, Jr. is the executive director of ancillary services at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.