Why do you need a building to get an education?

By Laura Bergells on
The Titanic

A few weeks ago, I went to tour the new Seidman Business School Building on the downtown GVSU campus. Reports say the new building cost around $40 million.

Wow. All that money for a business school building! Accounting, economics, finance, management, marketing — fields like that.

You know, the kind of topics people all over the world are learning online. Not in buildings.

The Seidman building is huge — four floors — and richly appointed with artwork and sumptuous furniture. I took the elevator up to the top floor and worked my way down. On every floor I walked from one end to the other, exploring a few rooms, and marveling at the museum quality artwork in the hallways and conference rooms.

When I left the building, my pedometer registered over 3,000 steps. And I have very long legs.

Like I said, huge building. Shockingly so.

Even more shocking: all this new space, and no new faculty. And only one of the floors was devoted to classrooms. The rest were offices, meeting rooms, study rooms, computer rooms, break rooms, copy rooms, and washrooms.

I can’t say for sure, but I think I saw more washrooms than classrooms.

It reminded me of a giant cruise ship. So well appointed. So opulent. So grand.

I’m walking through the open vastness, smelling the new building smell, and all I can think is,

“This reminds me of the Titanic.”

As Mark Cuban recently blogged in Will Your College Go Out of Business Before You Graduate?,

Why in the world are schools building new buildings? What is required in a business school classroom that is any different from the classroom for psychology or sociology or English or any other number of classes?

Like Cuban, I believe that colleges can offer educational value to students. The question isn’t whether young people need to go to college, but whether that college will be in business by the time students graduate. And whether colleges are making smart, sustainable decisions about how they provide value to students and society.

Are giant buildings like these really necessary to get an excellent business education? Especially since online learning is where the future of business education lies? Is racking up enormous student debt to pay for this four year cruise ship experience worth it?

It’s past time for colleges (and students!) to ask tough questions.

  • How does a giant cruise ship of a building provide educational value to a four year business student?
  • How much effort has the college devoted to understanding how to deliver excellent learning opportunities in online environments?
  • How else can students get the same or superior educational value for a fraction of the cost of a traditional 4 year education?
  • How does amassing enormous college debt while in your twenties enrich the lives of students and our society?

I graduated from GVSU. I even taught as an adjunct there. I hope it sticks around for a long, long time. I hope students learn and grow and accomplish great work.

I hope GVSU is not too big to fail. I really hope it’s not the Titanic.

I hope it only looks that way, for now.