Moseley Architects: From Challenges to Opportunities – Higher Education in the COVID19 Era (NCACCT Business Partner)

From Challenges to Opportunities: Higher Education in the COVID19 Era

By Suzanne McDade, Senior Associate & Project Manager at Moseley Architects


As we enter the summer of 2020, it is hard to believe that so much of what has become the norm was basically unimaginable just months ago. In a matter of days our nation worked tirelessly to pivot, changing our workplace and education culture to accommodate a safer at-home strategy, making public health the highest priority. Cultural shifts like social distancing, working from home, and online learning have all become part of our daily lives. Realistically, they may be a new normal.

Perceived originally as challenges, we are embracing opportunities for what our future can look like beyond the current pandemic.  At least that is what we are encountering at Moseley Architects. As a design firm who specialize in education, clients often engage us to help think through the paradigm shifts in teaching pedagogy or new operations and how those changes will affect physical space. This rapid pivot has opened many opportunities for us to study the effect on the built environment. Our findings have been a series of trends focused on our ability to become nimble and reactive. However, we find that these efforts hold intrinsic value for the future of how we plan for and use campus building portfolios.


Workplace Culture

It’s estimated that only 4 percent of Americans were working from home prior to the pandemic. At its peak, this number grew to an estimated 38 percent. Employers took a crash course on implementing an agile workplace culture and many are finding there are advantages to supporting these operations. In higher education, there are many staff-supporting functions that work well off campus. Others lend themselves better to a hybrid model. Both strategies reduce on-campus density so that a single workstation is not required for every employee. This could lead to a net gain in real estate and allow other student-centric functions to use those spaces. It can also provide an availability for growth without additional building costs. We are engaged in a campus-wide study for Clemson University to help them evaluate their workplace culture, how they might shift to a more agile work model, and what kind of net space gains that can yield.


Workforce Development

Education focused on workforce development requires a particular amount of hands-on learning that can prove challenging in a physically distant culture. However, recent improvements to simulation-based learning makes it possible for students to participate in immersive learning from a distance. From welding to nursing, advancements in technology allow students to learn the fundamentals online. It seems this shift may allow for students to do much of their curriculum from a distance, with a concentrated portion of the semester allocated to hands-on practical learning.  There is a value here in how often it would require students to travel to campus, yielding more flexibility for students who need to juggle obligations outside of school. We must balance this with an extra emphasis on the social benefits of learning. When students are on campus, educators must maximize that time to create a sense of community and belonging on campus to foster a collegiate experience.


Collaborative Learning

Recent design trends have contributed to an emphasis on collaborative learning, and even with the current value on maintaining a safe, physical distance, we do not see that going away.  In fact, we see those taking an even greater priority over traditional learning spaces. Lecture-based curriculums made an easier transition to an online platform and may for many reasons want to stay there rather than head back to the lecture hall.  The ability to record lectures for students’ on-demand use, including full functionality of replay, has proven to hold value for all types of learners. If this trend holds, this could drastically change the program needs for new buildings and find real estate within existing buildings for space reallocation.


Holistic Approach to Generational Learning

We could not have been better prepared to navigate the swift change brought on by the pandemic.  The past several decades has brought about a technology explosion that bolstered our ability to be social and present, even while maintaining a physical distance.  Some generations have navigated this shift easier than others. With the student populations for community and technical college comprising multiple generations who have distinct learning styles, we need to cultivate a holistic approach.  This may include the emergence of additional student services aimed to help students navigate the technology needed to succeed, or even an opportunity to register for classes that offer either a traditional learning setting or an online platform.


Exterior Space

It’s no surprise that people are flocking outdoors after the government urged much of the nation to stay home for a suitable part of the spring. With current research supporting the idea that transmitting the virus outdoors is less likely than indoors, we see outdoor spaces becoming an asset. We’ve seen a trend towards capturing outdoor flexible spaces to serve as ‘pop up’ shops for student facing services.  Everything from permanent functions like veterans’ affairs and advising to more rolling or temporary needs like freshman orientation. Dining and academic spaces can move to outdoor spaces with or without temporary facilities such as tents.


A Future of Opportunities

While the events that thrust us into this era are not anything we would have hoped for, the fact remains we are in a new era.  Initially, we saw only the challenges of how to overcome the status quo of our new world. Now we see that there are opportunities to be gained from our new normal to propel us forward.


Special Thanks to…

Steve Hunt, Robeson Community College, VP of Workforce Development

Derek Hunter, Wayne Community College AVP of Administrative Services

Dr. Larry Keen, Fayetteville Technical CC President


About Moseley Architects

Moseley Architects is among the southeast’s most trusted public sector architects, offering exceptional design to higher education clients.  They work to routinely deliver functional, efficient, and appealing solutions within rigorous budgets and schedules. Additionally, they offer experience and service gained through their work on over 100 collegiate projects. This includes extensive campus planning, programming, and design experience in a broad portfolio of collegiate projects, including academic, research, recreation, athletic, arts and student life.   For more information visit: