Even before the pandemic emerged, higher education was undergoing several changes. Advances in technology, rising costs of tuition, shifting demographics, and several other factors were necessitating colleges to adopt new strategies to remain relevant. When the coronavirus came to America, colleges had to rapidly implement a wide range of new practices to ensure that their students could succeed during the crisis. Now that the pandemic appears to be receding, it’s possible to assess which colleges have successfully implemented these rapid changes. It’s also possible to analyze how they are implementing their long-term planned shifts in strategy due to the greater stability that the future appears to offer. This ranking is going to highlight 30 colleges that have been successful in adapting to change, both sudden and prolonged.
Colleges, as institutions with the primary purpose of training students for future job roles, naturally need to continually change and adapt. But they also need to retain a certain consistency to provide a standard of education that continues to be of a high standard. This can be a tricky balance to achieve. And there is no one way for a college to change its approach while maintaining a high standard of education. Because of these facts, this ranking has attempted to analyze as many different indicators of change as possible. These include the adoption of technology, the launch of a range of new subjects, expansions in construction, and any other innovative change that the institutions could highlight.
The world and job functions will undoubtedly continue to change in the future. Because of this, this ranking has also assessed how colleges are planning to change in the following years. This ensures that the research in this ranking should remain relevant for a long time and that the featured colleges are committed to continual future adaptation.
Any one of the colleges listed is a strong choice for a student who wants to attend an institution that has made a significant investment in its evolution. But it’s also possible that none of the colleges here are right for you. If that’s the case, this ranking can still be a vital resource in your college search. Each ranking contains a detailed summary that explains how the college has changed and why those changes have been successful. These have been included so that you can compare and contrast them with your college options. If any college you’re considering has made changes like the colleges ahead, that’s a strong indication that it’s worth attending.
Our initial research attempted to highlight colleges that had been changing in a range of ways. We located sources that indicated colleges that had changed in numerous ways and others that showcased one specific way in which the colleges had changed. These sources are as follows:
- The Hechinger Report, Panicked universities in search of students are adding thousands of new majors
- The New York Times, With Changing Students and Times, Colleges Are Going Back to School
- Build Central, The Top 5 Universities Undergoing Expansion
- Constructconnect, Hundreds of Campus Projects Launching Throughout the US
- The New York Times, How Technology is Changing the Future of Higher Education
- Hanover Research, 2020 Trends in Higher Education
- The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Looming Enrollment Crisis
After locating the colleges from these sources, we then conducted further research. This assessed further changes the college had made and how successful the changes had been for the college’s standard of education.
The final ranking has been sorted with the following criteria: Evidence of making a wide range of changes, evidence of the changes improving the quality of education/experience, evidence of innovation, and aggregated number of mentions on the source lists.
The colleges, from 30 to one, are here:
30. Emerson College
One of the major changes at Emerson College in the last five years is not visually recognizable. In 2018, the college committed to purchasing 100% of its energy from wind turbine sources. A more recognizable recent change is the transformation of the college’s Little Building. The college could have demolished this building. Instead, the leadership decided to give the structure a major renovation. The renovation work began by stripping much of the building down. Once this had taken place, the renovators discovered that they could restore the first three floors but had to replace higher floors. In addition to replacing these floors, the renovation added an extra floor. It also significantly changed the interior layout. The Little Building re-opened in 2019. Currently, the college is expecting to undergo significant change as it is searching for a new president. The college has also been dedicated to helping students adapt to changes during the pandemic. For example, it has hosted student question-and-answer sessions to help address any concerns they may have had. The Hechinger Report has noted that Emerson College has added new majors and minors in recent years.
29. Columbia College Chicago
In late 2019, Columbia College Chicago opened its first-ever student center. This building cost $50 million and became “a new hub for collaboration, creativity, and innovation.” The college also created several strong policies to reduce the spread of coronavirus on campus. In addition to mandating vaccinations, the college also mandated indoor face coverings. And failure to adhere to the face-covering policy results in disciplinary action, which ultimately includes expulsion without the option for fee refunds. In 2020, the college announced that it was working on a vision for what it would achieve by 2030 and asked its entire community to contribute ideas. The Hechinger Report notes that Columbia College Chicago has added several new majors to appeal to a wider range of students.
28. College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
In the fall of 2021, the College of Charleston began a major renovation and upgrade of its Albert Simons Center for the Arts. This two-year project includes demolishing almost 11,000 square feet of space, constructing almost 23,000 square feet of space, and adding a range of state-of-the-art facilities, such as a digital lab and a two-story black box theater. Constructconnect features this renovation in its list of college construction projects. The majority of the transformations at the college over the last five years are thanks to its successful BOUNDLESS fundraising campaign, which managed to bring in almost $139 million. This money has been spent on five priorities, namely scholarships, faculty, academic/campus programs, state-of-the-art facilities, and philanthropic endeavors. Additionally, the College of Charleston can demonstrate that it is doing everything possible to fight the coronavirus. State law prevents the college from mandating vaccinations, but it has created several free vaccination clinics, launched vaccine incentive campaigns, and required everyone to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
27. San Diego State University
San Diego, California
Buildcentral notes that San Diego State University is currently constructing a monumental new project on the site of what was once the Qualcomm Stadium. This project will add not just a new stadium but also 1.6 million square feet of academic and research space, 15 blocks of housing, hotels, and retail space. The new stadium is scheduled to open in fall 2022, with the other construction projects on the site following afterward. The college is also planning to complete a $77 million renovation of its recreation center in fall 2021. Sand Diego State University managed to adapt rapidly to the coronavirus and launched several innovative initiatives. In fact, between March 2020 to March 2021, the college was able to gain over $8.6 million in coronavirus project funding. It also gained $5 million to improve coronavirus responses among underserved populations and $3 million to recruit and train community health workers.
26. University of Idaho
In 2017, the University of Idaho opened the Integrated Research and Innovation Center. This center has allowed its community to “transcend traditional academic boundaries, allowing researchers to take on key questions in new ways.” The college is also continuing to add new facilities that lead to educational/experiential innovation. For instance, by the end of 2021, it aims to open a state-of-the-art basketball arena and a seed potato lab facility building. But Constructconnect features the college for its Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment. This center will take up three locations and aims to revolutionize the agriculture industry. It is planned to open in 2023. The University of Idaho has also managed to get over 10,000 members of its community to commit to a health pledge. This pledge ensures that community members stay vigilant for coronavirus symptoms, wear face coverings, practice frequent handwashing and report concerns/questions to the college.
25. University of Maine at Presque Isle
Presque Isle, Maine
In 2018, the University of Maine at Presque Isle implemented a new grading system. Instead of grading students an F, they would receive a “not proficient,” with the opportunity to boost this grade into a passing mark in the future. The college also added significant levels of choice in how students study and when they decide to undergo assessments. And in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the college undertook major investments in classroom technology, allowing students to undertake courses in five different ways, ensuring that almost all needs during the pandemic were met. The current strategic plan that the college is working on is designed to be revised yearly, ensuring that the goals can be adapted as the world changes. The New York Times highlights how the improved grading system can help students reach graduation.
24. University of North Texas
Currently under construction at the University of North Texas is a $100 million campus. This campus will open in 2023 and aims to prepare students for the fourth industrial revolution, which the college believes is around the corner. At present, the plan is for this new campus to offer 27 new undergraduate and master’s programs Constructconnect highlights this project. To encourage vaccinations among its community members, the University of North Texas created the Fall 2021 Vaccine Incentive Program, which offered the chance for students, faculty, and staff who got vaccinated to win prizes.
23. The University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
When Constructconnect featured The University of Texas at San Antonio, the planned expansion of its downtown campus was far from certain. But in January 2021, construction began on a $90 million center at the location. And this is just the first stage in the expansion. A former jail has been demolished to make space for the college to build a $161.2 million Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Careers Building. This construction work is central to the college’s current plan to strategically build partnerships with a range of leading businesses and industries. The University of Texas at San Antonio was also able to adapt its operations to handle coronavirus. For example, the Business Affairs division planned and facilitated a response and recovery plan for the college.
22. Temple University
2018 and 2019 saw a significant level of construction and renovation work take place across both Temple University’s US and international campuses. Some of the work that took place in the US included the completion of the Charles Library and the expansion of the Fox School of Business. In Japan, the college constructed a new campus building. And in Rome, the campus received a facelift. 2021 marks a major new chapter in the life of Temple University. The college appointed a new president for the first time in 45 years. The new president, Doctor Jason Wingard, aims to transform the college further, especially through engaging with the Philadelphia community. In light of the coronavirus, Temple University assigned a return team, made up of representatives from every part of the Philadelphia campus, to create a range of scenarios and phases to ensure that students could study safely. The Hechinger Report notes that the college has added new master’s degrees in recent years.
21. Dakota State University
Madison, South Dakota
In 2017, Dakota State University opened the Beacom Institute of Technology building. Since this event, much has changed at the college. For instance, later that same year, it announced that a $30 million gift would fund the MadLabs building, as well as fund scholarships and programs and develop faculty and staff. In 2019, it announced the Trojans Unite capital campaign, which began a major overhaul of the college’s athletics facilities. In 2020, the college formed an alliance with Sandford Health that would create workforce and economic opportunities. And in 2021, it opened the Entrepreneurial Building and the Paulson Cyber Incubator and Entrepreneurial Center. The college is currently working on a strategy to continue these improvements up to the year 2025. To ensure that the college keeps control of the coronavirus, the COVID Monitoring Team meets daily. Constructconnect highlights the college’s sports complex as a major construction project at a US college.
20. University of Richmond
Over the last five years, the University of Richmond has become significantly more sustainable, as was outlined in its strategic plan. For instance, by 2019, the college had matched 100% of its electricity needs with energy generated from renewable sources. The college has also conducted extensive construction work. One of the most recently completed projects is the Queally Athletics Center/Well-Being Center, which opened in 2021. Other constructions/renovations that have taken place in recent years include the Visual Arts Building, the Crenshaw Field Service Building, and the Booker Hall of Music. In September 2021, the college appointed a new president, sure to change the college further in the future. When coronavirus changed the world, the college responded with several measures. Possibly the most immediately helpful to students as they returned to campus was the COVID-19 Support Center, which is staffed by a team that has been trained to help students through the crisis. The Hechinger Report notes that the University of Richmond has added new master’s programs.
19. The University of Texas at Austin
The Capital Improvement Program at The University of Texas at Austin has completed several ambitious projects in the last five years. The most recent of which is a new wing to its Applied Research Laboratories building, which added 73,000 square feet of space and renovated a wide range of equipment. It is also currently running several ongoing projects, such as building the Gary L Thomas Energy Engineering Building, which will be 184,300 square feet. Build Central features the college for a number of its expansion projects, noting that their value is over $500 million. In May 2021, The University of Texas at Austin developed a wide range of campus-wide guidelines, which allowed the academic year in September to begin with a “near normal” setup.
18. Mt. San Antonio College
In 2018, major changes at Mt. San Antonio College started to become a reality, thanks to the approval of Measure GO, a $750 million investment. This has resulted in several completed projects and even more projects that are still underway. Some examples of completed projects include the Math/Science Complex & Exploratorium, the Agricultural Sciences Complex, the Design Technology Center, the Astronomy Dome, and much more. Constructconnect notes that one of the most ambitious parts of the Measure Go project is the Technology and Health Building, which is still to be constructed. Mt San Antonio College has also implemented several changes regarding coronavirus. As well as requiring students to be vaccinated or to take a coronavirus test every week, the college has also implemented increased cleaning, installed air filtration systems, and installed a number of safety shields on campus.
17. Drexel University
The New York Times notes that in 2018, Drexel University added 30 new online certificate programs that could be used toward a degree completion program. These certificates offered an extended number of opportunities for students to graduate successfully. The college has continued to diversify its educational offering. In 2021, the college announced that it was offering 38 new online programs. Additionally, Drexel University recently stated that it has utilized the pandemic as an opportunity for reinvention. It has done this in several ways, such as committing to a much more flexible approach to education and employment going forward. The college has also made many smaller improvements during the pandemic, such as re-configuring its bio wall for optimal sustainability and maintenance. The college is sure to implement a range of improvements continually. In fact, the president even called upon his entire community to become “outstanding innovators” in his most recent convocation speech.
16. University of Houston
Constructconnect notes that the University of Houston is constructing a $90 million law school building. This construction is on track to open in the fall of 2022. Many of the changes at the college are thanks to the Here, We Go fundraising campaign. This campaign originally aimed to raise $1 billion to support the transformation of the college. But it ended up surpassing this figure. When the campaign ended in 2020, the final figure stood at $1.2 billion. This money has gone into creating over 700 endowments, 12 centers and institutes, and even the creation of a college of medicine. The University of Houston has also created new ways to fight coronavirus, such as offering a vaccination incentive program that gave participants $50 and the chance to win further prizes.
15. The City College of New York
New York City, New York
Buildcentral notes that minor renovations are making up the beginning stages of a major modernization of The City College of New York’s Marshak Science and Athletic Building. The source values these efforts at $583 million. The college is also planning to renovate its art studios. In 2021, the college opened the Child Development Center. The college can also demonstrate advancements in a range of areas, such as the recent research equipment upgrade that it implemented thanks to an $800,000 National Science Foundation grant and the expansion of its experiential learning opportunities thanks to a $5 million Department of Education grant. As the coronavirus pandemic was emerging, The City College of New York was able to rapidly offer assistance to its community members. For instance, on March 6th, 2020, it created a community hotline. Later in the pandemic, the college created further measures to boost its sense of community, such as a remote book club.
14. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
In 2018, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University approved the Blacksburg Campus Plan, which drastically improves and develops the college’s Blacksburg campus over the next 30 years. The initial parts of this plan have already led to significant changes on the college’s campus. For instance, in 2021, the college opened a new 232,000 square foot residence hall which now houses a number of the college’s living-learning communities. And this is just the latest of many recently completed construction projects. The college has also proactively adapted itself into a leader in the fight against coronavirus. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even given funding for the college to spearhead efforts to boost vaccination rates across the State of Virginia. Buildcentral highlights Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for currently building a new innovation campus that it values at $1 billion.
13. Northeastern University
In 2018, the president of Northeastern University told The New York Times that the college’s new strategic plan would be based around forming robot-proof careers. The college has formed a number of ways to ensure that students are able to remain competitive in an age when technology changes job functions. For instance, it has embraced experiential learning to a greater extent than ever before. Northeastern University has adapted well to coronavirus. In fact, its mitigation efforts were so strong that for the first two weeks of the fall semester, no member of the campus community was hospitalized due to the disease. The college is also aiming to boost its networks as a core pillar of its 2025 strategic plan. Hanover Research also praises the college’s experiential learning network.
12. University of Georgia
In 2021, the University of Georgia completed the construction of the Center for Art and Nature in the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Renovation-wise, it also improved its journalism film production studio. Currently in the works are many other projects, including an expansion of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall and the construction of an interdisciplinary STEM research building. The college is also proud of how it rapidly reacted to coronavirus. This includes procuring tens of thousands of face masks, updating HVAC systems, and installing thousands of feet of plexiglass. Hanover Research praises the way that the University of Georgia is monitoring its social media performance closely and using this data to improve its messaging. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the college has addressed falling middle-income student enrollment by creating the Commit to Georgia initiative.
11. Dickinson College
The most impressive new addition to the facilities at Dickinson College is its residence hall. This building was constructed in a sustainable manner, and the final building was able to gain a LEED platinum environmental certification. In 2020, the college realized that many of its existing buildings needed to be renamed due to them originally being named after people who had connections to slave ownership. When coronavirus came to America, the college’s Community Action Network was quick to adapt to help those in need in a number of ways, such as distributing resources and raising over $100,000 to benefit nonprofit organizations. The college also recently announced a new scholarship program that aims to bring in a wider range Maryland students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend college. The Hechinger Report notes that Dickinson College has added new certificate programs. Hanover Research praises the way in which the college has incorporated a peer mentoring program for underrepresented students.
10. The University of Chicago
In early 2021, The University of Chicago completed the construction of its Student Wellness Center, allowing it to provide enhanced care to students. In 2020, the college completed several ambitious constructions, including the Woodlawn Residential and Dining Commons and the David Rubenstein Forum. And in the near future, the college will complete a new multi-use facilities building and a research building. To ensure that all college community members are taking coronavirus safety seriously, The University of Chicago created a COVID-19 health attestation that was mandatory for everyone to complete by September 2021. Hanover Research has praised the college for taking up the practice of collaborating with event management companies that rent their spaces. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the college has extended its deadline for college applicants in the past.
9. American University
Andrea Felder, the assistant vice provost for undergraduate admissions at American University, has explained to The Chronicle of Higher Education that her college is actively seeking to build stronger connections with local communities. It is doing this in several ways, such as broadening partnerships with Washington, DC schools and refining financial aid strategies. Hanover Research also notes that the college has partnered with Sony to create an app. One of the most impressive new constructions at American University is the Hall of Science Building. The building is 125,000 square feet and has been designed “to further scientific research to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.” The college also proactively helped its local community during the coronavirus. For instance, in early 2021, it was successful in getting a $100,000 grant that allowed it to feed food-insecure communities in Washington, DC.
8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The most recently completed building project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the Vassar Street Residence Hall. This building allows more students to live within the heart of the college’s campus. Many other college buildings have been built or renovated in recent years, such as innovation centers, labs, business outreach centers, and collaborative spaces. Five more buildings are due for completion before the end of 2021. To adapt to the coronavirus, the college also created several canopies in outdoor spaces on campus so that classes and meetings could take place safely. The New York Times notes that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can change effectively in part thanks to a teaching innovation experiment fund. Hanover Research highlights that the college has analyzed social media data to connect with alumni.
7. Southern New Hampshire University
Manchester, New Hampshire
Five years ago, Southern New Hampshire University opened the Sandbox ColLABorative. The New York Times notes that it is one of the spaces which is innovating college education through artificial intelligence, computer simulations, and more. The college has also changed in other areas more recently. For example, in 2020, it opened a new College of Engineering, Technology, and Aeronautics facility, which was 67,000 square feet. Currently, the college is preparing to train the post-coronavirus workforce. For example, in 2021, the college purchased the Kenzie Academy in an attempt to offer people alternative credentials through shorter courses of education. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that Southern New Hampshire College has continued to grow in recent years.
6. Arizona State University
In November 2020, Arizona State University managed to complete $50 million worth of facilities upgrades. Included in these upgrades were significant coronavirus safety measures, which naturally had to be planned and implemented at short notice. Examples of these coronavirus upgrades included installing video conferencing solutions in almost 400 spaces, creating outdoor teaching spaces, and adding thousands of handwashing stations. The college still has plenty of new construction projects underway, such as the Novus Innovation Corridor, which will comprise nine million square feet of office, retail, hospitality, and residential space. The New York Times notes that Arizona State University has implemented artificial intelligence into its online education, with the college using it to detect students who may be struggling. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the college’s online education system has helped it succeed.
5. Elizabethtown College
In late 2020, Elizabethtown College managed to surpass all expectations with its Be More Inspired fundraising campaign. This campaign aimed to raise $60 million to transform the campus. In totality, it raised $74.5 million. The funding is going to be divided into three areas. The first is titled Fulfilling Dreams. This portion will go into a career center, internships, scholarships, and more. The second is called Transforming Lives. This portion will go into new academic programs, student/faculty research, a technology innovation fund, a center for global understanding and peacemaking, and more. The final is named Building Community. This portion will build/renovate living communities, create a sustainability fund, create a sports center, and more. These new initiatives show that the college will continue to build upon its recent improvements, such as The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. The Hechinger Report notes that Elizabethtown College has added new master’s degrees in recent years. Hanover Research praises the college’s efforts to help the parents of underrepresented students understand what their children will go through as they study.
4. University of Florida
In 2019, the University of Florida announced that it had planned $2.2 billion for construction and renovation projects over the next decade. This includes the construction of almost 400,000 square feet of residential space, a 50,000 square foot commons area, and a 27,000 square foot social and learning space. And the college’s scientists have been finding new coronavirus solutions. One recent example is the development of a method of cryopreserving affected lung tissue that allows researchers to study the impact of the disease more effectively. Hanover Research notes that the college has formed a partnership with Walmart that trains company employees and provides the college with working students. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes the University of Florida has been able to see increases in enrollment.
3. Georgia Institute of Technology
The New York Times notes that the Georgia Institute of Technology actively integrates technological advancements into its education. Specifically, the source states that the college is considering creating a virtual subscription for mentors and advisers. The source also states that the college has been experimenting with a robot teaching assistant. Constructconnect notes that the college is also in phase three of developing its Tech Square location. Tech Square, which is in Midtown-Atlanta, has been innovating the college for over 20 years. One of the most recent additions to Tech Square is the Coda building, which allows companies to integrate with the college’s innovation ecosystem. Currently under construction in Tech Square is the Scheller Tower, which is going to house MBA and executive education programs. It is scheduled to open in 2022. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the Georgia Tech Promise program has helped the neediest students graduate debt-free. Georgia Institute of Technology was able to rapidly focus on fighting coronavirus in several ways. For instance, it enabled the delivery of 1.8 million pieces of PPE and 7,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to healthcare workers. It also focused on creating and providing designs for face shields, low-cost ventilators, and barrier protection devices.
2. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Several construction projects at the University of Michigan were recently completed or are due to be completed in the near future. These include adding 20,000 square feet to the Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building’s vivarium, finishing the 100,000 square foot Central Campus Classroom Building, expanding the Central Power Plant, and much more. Perhaps the most impressive recent addition to the college in recent years is the 140,000-square-foot Ford Motor Company Robotics Building. The college was also quick to respond to the coronavirus. For instance, its medicine team managed to quickly develop treatment guidelines that ended up being used around the world. The New York Times notes that University of Michigan students are now using augmented reality in the testing of autonomous vehicles. Hanover Research notes that the college’s Business Engagement Center was able to expand its operations thanks to a $142.8 million investment. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the college has been able to increase its enrollment in recent years.
1. University of Washington
During the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Washington continued to launch new initiatives and spaces. For instance, in May 2020, the college opened the Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences. Buildcentral also notes that the college is continuing to expand, with a one million square foot dormitory space and 1.25 million square feet of academic/research areas being planned for the college’s South Campus. In addition to this, in 2019, the college finalized a master plan to add millions of square feet of new buildings and spaces to its other campuses. Additionally, the University of Washington was the first college in America to make a major change in regard to coronavirus. On March 6th, 2020, it was the first college to announce a move to remote learning. Hanover Research also notes that the college has implemented digital marketing automation effectively. The Chronicle of Higher Education praises the University of Washington’s efforts in making the college more transfer-friendly for students.
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