The incredible, inevitable evolution of private education and facilities in the 21st Century

Duncan France

By Duncan France

SHIRLEY, MA–Not that long ago, in the early 2000’s, I was a young, wide-eyed teenager faced with hundreds of options when it came to the future of my education. Overwhelmed by a myriad of potential circumstances that I am just now beginning to fully appreciate and comprehend, ultimately my decisions boiled down to three main factors.

  • Technology and Learning Environment
  • Lifestyle
  • Affordability

Technology and Learning Environment

In just the last 10 years alone, technology has completely changed the face of education. With the dawn of the internet, a picture of a student with a laptop connected via Ethernet in the library might as a well be a cave painting of a Neanderthal discovering fire. Once proprietary information is now delivered online for free. Now the question becomes, how can you create value, and essentially sell something that’s free?

According to Dr. Mark Sivak, a Professor of Electrical Engineering at Northeastern University, and Dr. David Burkus, a Professor of Management at Oral Roberts University (Author of “The Myths of Creativity

Duncan France
Duncan France

and his upcoming book, “Under New Management”) , the focus now is less about the content delivery, and more about content navigation and real world application.

“Traditional classroom learning is a thing of the past.” notes Dr. Sivak, “Students do homework in the classroom and watch lectures for homework. It’s more about application, explanation, and collaboration than lecturing.” Dr. Burkus agrees. “Why bother having me lecture when I can stream a lecture from Harvard? I think my role will be shifting more towards helping people navigate the waters.”

It’s this philosophy that is creating a huge demand for collaborative learning environments, research labs, and maker space. The future of learning relies more on practical application than content retention, with the future of virtual learning relying more on firsthand experience than hypothetical circumstances.

Dr. Burkus says: “As far as classroom design, I see a lot of blending of traditional lecture halls with options to record lectures or to being virtual students in via webinar. One thing I haven’t seen, but would like to see, is use of the same technology to go the other way…to bring on campus students virtually to other places, such as virtual interaction with executives in the workplace. That would be awesome!”


Universities and private schools aren’t just selling a place to get a unique educational experience, they’re selling a lifestyle. Traditional dorms are giving way to mixed use spaces, with the “hospitality model” encompassing living, dining, entertainment, and open work space all under one roof being integrated to nearly every major private school and university in the country. In fact, according to Dr. Sivak, some schools are creating ‘ballroom type settings with the sole purpose of entertaining.’ What kind of amenities a school offers is now as much a part of the equation as the education itself.

“Sometimes, it seems that students care more about the pool and the cafeteria than the classrooms,” says Dr. Burkus.  In the private school sector, noted Rob Moore, the Assistant Head of School at Lawrence Academy, private schools are trying to combine ‘a global outreach with a sharpened brand’ while delivering a product that encourages ‘more independent and collaborative learning environments.’ Ultimately, the end goal is to have lifestyle and learning environments intertwine, much like the work and home integration of the modern corporate world.

Affordability and Enrollment

Herein lies the conundrum every school must deal with. Schools need amenities, combined with an affordable tuition to increase enrollment. By providing these amenities, and state of the art learning environments, tuition must be raised to offset the cost. What to do, what to do?

When asked about the main concerns among the students when it comes to their education, Dr. Burkus provided some insight on how the modern student could benefit.” They’d like flexibility. Traditional students are no longer the majority of undergraduate degree seekers. Instead it’s part-time, or working adults. Most colleges still do their course planning with the idea that a one hour course, three times a week, will work for most people. Even the way campuses are laid out…usually the classroom buildings are far away from main roads of a city for example, make life more difficult for those who are not living on campus and studying full-time.”

Northeastern University, according to Dr. Sivak, is taking a different approach to combat this problem. “We’re setting up satellite campuses in different target markets and creating area specific MBA’s.” For instance, the university’s Silicon Valley satellite offers MBA’s with focuses on business leadership, while their Seattle satellite focuses on healthcare and technology. The “Learn where you live” model is making this more accessible and affordable. Some universities have considered this model as it pertains to undergraduates as well. With an increasing enrollment in community colleges and state schools, due to their relatively low costs, private universities have begun offering similar paths through satellite campuses offering associate degrees, while becoming a “feeder” school for their main campus in order to complete a Bachelor degree.

Controlled costs start with an experienced team with “short window” design build experience. Let Senate Construction show you the future of education.

(Duncan France is Director of Marketing and Business Development at Shirley, MA-based Senate Construction.)

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