• U.S.

Colleges: Mansions– or Misplaced Slums?

2 minute read

Mansions— or Misplaced Slums?

The college crush becomes a crunch this year, as the number of 18-year-olds in the U.S. leaps roughly 20%. In the next six years, says the U.S. Office of Education, the nation’s degree-credit collegians will increase by almost 70% .

Can colleges possibly prepare for living and learning on such a scale? A yes, maybe, answer came last week from the Ford Foundation-sponsored Educational Facilities Laboratories. Its report, called Bricks and Mortarboards, emphasizes the urgent need for radical new college designs. Only thus, it argues, can colleges cope simultaneously with space problems, teacher shortages, a knowledge explosion, and the demandsof new teaching technology. Old Siwash will never be the same.

As E.F.L. sees it, the key to college planning is “maximum convertibility.” New class buildings will need movable walls for instant subdivision of big lecture halls into small seminar rooms, and vice versa. Physics labs must be convertible to biology labs almost overnight. Libraries need individual studies for independent research, computers to replace the card catalogue. To offset the anonymity of mass learning, dormitories should stress small-group living, even incorporate classrooms.

The college of the fast-approaching future will need all manner of automated devices,from closed-circuit TV to dial systems that will order a central computer to dish up information or solve knotty math problems. Already some new buildings are being designed entirely around machines. At the University of Miami’s new University College, shaped like an octagonal pie with lecture halls surrounding a television studio at the core, a single professor can now talk from TV screens to as many as 3,600 students a day—more than most professors face in 10 years of live teaching.

Unfortunately, says E.F.L., most colleges are so far behind in providing for bodies alone that a shortage of 1,000,000 college places looms by 1970.

Though Congress has just authorized construction grants and loans of $400 million a year for three years, college building will still fall $300 million short of minimum annual needs. Odds are that most colleges will muddle through in the end. But unless they plan faster and better, warns E.F.L., tardy crash programs may produce not modern mansions of learning, but “misplaced academic slums, a drain both educationally and economicallyon future generations.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com