‘Unbundling’ university will change higher education forever - The Orca

‘Unbundling’ university will change higher education forever


Ada Slivinski: Even if the first iteration doesn’t inspire confidence, there may well be a market for a very different, fully remote post-secondary experience.

My kid sister is starting university this year.

Just like thousands of others, instead of the usual frosh week activities and scrambling to find the right classroom on day one, she will be logging on to classes virtually, from her old bedroom in her parents’ house.

Students are not crossing international borders to attend school in this new Covid reality; many aren’t leaving home at all. As a result, they will be missing out on some of the independence and new experiences that are usually part of the post-secondary experience.

Enter The Experience U: an “unbundled” university experience for where US students enrolled in online courses can live at a hotel in Hawaii or Arkansas and take advantage of the amenities and bars. Curated Instagram photos of attractive young people lounging by a fancy pool and gifs from popular Hollywood movies promise “your university experience doesn’t have to be cancelled.”

The company was started by two Princeton grads, neither of whom have any event planning experience, and charges between $12,000 and $15,000 (depending on location) for room and board for the year. The idea – along with the lavish marketing style – has prompted comparisons to Fyre Festival.

The goal is minimizing exposure to COVID-19 while still providing a fun “university” experience for 150 students. The student handbook stipulates all students have to test negative for COVID-19 before attending and take appropriate precautions between testing and arriving onsite – but specifics of safety protocols have yet to be released.

Whether or not these two can actually pull this off, they have thrown a curveball at the idea of a traditional university experience.

After students graduate, the work world they enter has changed drastically, but much about university and college has stayed the same. Ten years ago, students may have completed a four-year degree and gone to work in the same job in the same office building from nine to five until retirement. Now, many industries require constant skills upgrades and lifelong learning. The job you had right out of school could very well be completely different just five years later.

A degree from a top school (still) has merit and clout. But if students don’t necessarily need to be on campus – as many schools will demonstrate this year – Pandora’s Box will open.

Universities may have to change how they offer courses well after the pandemic. If they want to keep a hold on the value of a student’s experience and not just their education, schools will have to pivot – and they’ll have to do it fast. If not, market disruptors like Experience U may just leave them with empty halls.

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at ada@jampr.co