01/10/2023 • 4 min read

The 4 Cs of Relevant Higher Education Spaces

Transforming campuses for learning to happen anywhere

by Haworth, Inc.

Dorm. Lecture Hall. Dining Hall. Computer Lab. All represent spaces on campus that have evolved significantly over the years. Narrow definitions of campus spaces are outdated. Today’s campus reflects an entirely new view of how spaces are used to enable and enhance the living and learning experience.

  • The dorm is more than just a place to sleep and eat—it’s now a hub for living and learning.
  • The library has become more than a collection of books—it’s a destination where students, faculty, and staff go to meet, collaborate, research, and refresh.
  • Today’s classroom is more than the traditional space lined with rows of chairs—it’s a place for connecting, sharing, and mentoring that supports the needs of an increasingly diverse campus population.

Plus, a myriad of issues now drives colleges and universities to adapt spaces to better serve students and communities.

Leaders in higher education face new challenges as they transform the traditional campus into an immersive space where learning happens anywhere. And if learning can happen anywhere, we can agree that the campus is the classroom.

Campus as the Classroom

Haworth understands today’s campus and what it takes to create impactful spaces, centered on a collective understanding of our “4 Cs” of higher education campus design. The following guidelines can help leaders create diverse environments that attract and retain students, faculty, and staff, as well as offer flexibility for changing needs.

1.   Change is Constant

Leaders see change as one of their most important challenges—in fact, change is a constant. And the pace of change on today’s campus has sped up over the past two years.

Anticipating and planning for inevitable change requires smart design and fluid solutions for a wide range of activities. Most students want a rich, robust campus experience. This means designing flexible spaces that can host a wide range of activities—today and in the future.

When planning spaces that can adapt to the dynamics of change, it’s helpful to carefully consider what kind of change is desired, how the change will be managed and measured, and how change will continue to inform the ongoing evolution of campus spaces.

2.    Choice is the New Norm

The one-size-fits-all approach may have had its place on campus back in the day. However, it never resulted in a responsive campus, one that truly addressed the needs of the individual. In the competitive sphere of academics, each college campus must respond to the needs and desires of students, faculty, and staff to enrich their overall experience and potential. Choice is a key theme in campus design.

When you give people choices, they are allowed to tailor their space in a way that optimizes their experience.

Higher education leaders need to accommodate an increasingly diverse range of demographics among students, faculty, and staff. Environments that provide appropriate levels of choice where people learn, work, play, and restore will help improve the campus experience. Campuses that evolve along with teaching and learning styles, as well as new technology, help people reach their full potential.

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3.    Challenge the Status Quo

The college experience is meant to empower students to challenge the norm while trying new things, testing new concepts, and considering new approaches. Those leading campus design projects need to do the same.

While there is value in tradition, every institution should examine “what’s next?”. This means testing new concepts, experimenting with what might work, and considering new approaches to teaching and learning.

Every institution is unique. How each creates alignment across their organization to challenge the status quo will determine how much, or how deeply, change can be made. However, campus leaders need to plan for what’s next (even if you don’t know what that is) for both individual spaces and the overall campus.

For example, consider technology to understand how important it is to challenge the status quo. On one hand, advancing technology requires students to develop new skills to succeed in their future careers. On the other hand, this same technology alters how and when learning takes place. This one factor has significantly changed what students learn, how they learn, where they learn, and when they learn.

Schools that challenge the status quo position themselves well for the future.

4.    Connection is Key

Perhaps you’ve heard this saying: You can go to college and get a degree, or you can get engaged and get an education. Engagement can take many forms, but all require connections between individuals on campus.

Most students want a rich, robust campus experience with opportunities for engagement. Well-designed spaces enable connections between people and technology to support teaching, learning, working, and socializing. When learning happens everywhere, it’s vital to provide spaces that bring people together as well as technology that enables connections between people.

Schools need to take a broad view of technology–ensuring the right balance is in place to support learning, content sharing, collaborating, and the blend of in-person and virtual interactions.

When you view the entire campus as the classroom, you recognize that learning happens anywhere whenever people are engaged in discussions, sharing ideas, and being creative. The challenge—and opportunity—for educational leaders is to expand the potential of their campus spaces using the 4 Cs so students, faculty, and staff can reach their full potential.

Learning Happens Anywhere

Find out how today’s colleges and universities are transforming the traditional campus into an immersive experience where learning happens anywhere. In a recorded Haworth Connect presentation, higher-education experts shared their insights on creating spaces that help students, faculty, and staff reach their full potential, as well as ensure flexibility for changing needs.


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