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The Connected Campus

Building Long-Term Value and Agility by Connecting Offerings, Organizations and Operations

By adapting and connecting their separate offerings, organizations and operations, colleges and universities can prepare for a changing future.

Shifts in demographics, technology and economics continue to transform the higher education experience. Today, 46% of students are the first in their family to go to college, 42% are students of color, and 37% are 25 or older.1 Even before the pandemic, online learning had gone mainstream, with 33% of students taking at least one course online.2 Tuition at public universities has tripled in 30 years,3 student loan debt is now $1.5 trillion4 and about 150 non-profit institutions have closed in the last 5 years.5

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that a recent American Council on Education (ACE) survey revealed that only roughly one in 10 college presidents surveyed said they are very confident in their institution's ability to adapt to key trends such as changes in student demographics. Or that nationally only about 50% of students are "engaged", which is the National Survey of Student Engagement's definition of a student's degree of investment in their own learning as measured by their time spent on educationally-purposeful activities. Or that 62% of students graduate within 6 years.6

The historic separations which defined higher education are now changing. Research is becoming more interdisciplinary as teams take on complex problems. Online and on-campus are converging. Wet and dry labs are blending. Teaching and research overlap. Learning happens in and out of the classroom. Individual and team work are symbiotic. Conducting a pre-occupancy needs assessment sets the baseline for post-occupancy performance evaluation. Academic institutions are forging closer relationships with corporate partners. Support services are integrated to provide a “one-stop-shop” for students.

Now is the time to reimagine facilities, technologies, student services, operations and organizational structures to create more connected campuses.


In this whitepaper, which brightspot created in collaboration with Knoll, we explore about how colleges and universities can change what they offer, how they are organized, and how they operate to respond to these demographic, technological and cultural shifts. We then provide ways that each type of space on campus—along with the services and technologies within them— can adapt. Finally, we identify what the implications are for the future workplace and its occupants, who are today’s students. These insights are drawn from the combined work of Knoll and brightspot with hundreds of colleges and universities, our review of trends and literature, and in-depth interviews with a diverse set of innovators in different roles at a variety of institutions.

We spoke with leaders in areas that are changing higher education, such as community engagement, digital learning, enrollment management, industry partnerships, social impact, student life, student success and supporting LGBTQIA+ communities. Together, their points of view provide insights on the future of higher education that institutions can use to reimagine their offerings, organization, operations and facilities.

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