United States: Resort-based learning initiative

EducationWorld February 2021 | International News

The creators of a holiday resort for US college students studying online during their Covid lockdowns are promising to expand the concept into a fundamental reimagining of the residential campus experience.

The idea by three Princeton University graduates — long-term luxury hotel rentals for students taking remote classes — has already been blocked in multiple US states over its virus-spreading potential. Rather than relent, the creators of The U Experience say they have 150 students coming to a Texas vacation resort in January, and have 2,000 more expressing interest in future opportunities.

The idea has value well beyond the pandemic, says Lane Russell, one of the co-founders of The U Experience, because it will let students get a residential campus-style experience while paying fees at online rates. “The idea is to enable students a way to actually design the community that they’re part of,” says Russell. “What we’re looking for in resorts is spaces that are conducive to community building,” adds co-founder, Adam Bragg.

As with the original idea of giving hundreds of online students a shared residence in a deadly pandemic, the notion of permanently replacing college campuses with beaches, sunset cruises and poolside bars has generated scepticism among academia pundits. “From an education perspective, I think the concept is just awful,” says Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. “It really takes a very narrow view of what is the residential college experience,” says Ross Rubenstein, a professor of educational and community policy at Georgia State University.

And despite the widespread refusal of US colleges to lower fees during the pandemic, Russell and Bragg predict that institutions will increasingly offer their online courses at rates cheaper than their in-person versions.

With that expectation, a residential college education as imagined by The U Experience would cost students less overall, given the understanding that the $11,000 (Rs.8 lakh) per semester bill for room and board at a resort hotel is close to what some colleges charge for residential accommodation.

Higher education experts, however, dismiss the company’s claims about the low value that students place on in-person teaching and genuine campus experiences. According to experts, the reality is that few colleges offer significant discounts on online classes and integrated residential experiences represent essential and formative elements of the undergraduate experiences. The consensus is that vacation resorts seem unlikely to attract customers beyond wealthy and unfocused students. College Board data also show that US colleges charge an average of about $6,000 (Rs.4.38 lakh) per semester for room and board, about half The U Experience’s advertised price.

(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education and The Economist)

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