Reaching Higher: Planning Campuses for the Sharing Economy


Loop U consortium shares resources with peer colleges in Chicago.


The sharing economy is gaining momentum as innovative start-ups allow individuals to be both service provider and consumer at the touch of a smartphone app.

Have a car but need some cash? Uber lets you work as taxi driver for a day. Need a ride but can't afford a taxi? Uber connects you with a driver--a twist on the age-old carpool. From renting a private townhouse for a weekend getaway to sharing office spaces and equipment with other freelancers, the sharing economy allows individuals and businesses to lower overhead, control expenses, and increase revenue.

The growing sharing economy offers opportunities for colleges and universities as well. Because capital projects and infrastructure are expensive to fund and maintain, the sharing economy looks toward multiple entities to share expenses, revenue, and benefits. Especially in this era of shrinking state funding and decreasing federal research grants, the sharing economy creatively identifies ways to do more with less.

Campus planning ultimately is about creating new ways to engage students in the learning process, and generate synergy with the larger community. As such, the sharing economy can benefit campus planning in several meaningful ways.


Students have always been great about sharing--from housing to expenses, car rides to lecture notes, books to groceries. They are always looking for inventive ways to cut costs and share the burden. Communal living is part of their DNA. 

And now with shrinking state funding and greater focus on career-focused curriculum, colleges have new opportunities to rethink how they bring greater value to the student experience at a lower cost.

The answer is with students themselves. They are an endless resource of ideas and inventiveness, and by encouraging entrepreneurial enterprises, institutions can create transformational learning models, essentially taking the campus community garden or book-swap kiosk a step further to create meaningful new businesses that help fund their expenses and enrich students' educational experiences.


Many colleges are doing just that. Entrepreneurial programs and incubators within business schools are leading to start-ups that fuel the local economy and offer on-the-job training with existing businesses.

New York University | Stern's W.R Berkley Innovation Lab, for instance, is a cross-disciplinary program that helps students start and grow marketable businesses--start-ups, social ventures, and "intrapreneurial" projects. Similar business programs across the country likewise enhance classroom learning by sharing resources through academic partnerships. For instance, students may work with local venture capitalists to open a café, providing the opportunity to draw up a business plan, rent a storefront near campus, buy furniture and equipment, hire and train staff, plan the grand opening, and then run the café. The benefit is real-world experience that enhances campus life and community life around the campus.

In addition to business schools, this real-world approach to curriculum has been a hallmark of technical colleges. The Career & Technical Education programs at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California, integrates academics, technical instruction and work-based learning with local industries to prepare students for careers in Agriculture, Construction Science, Natural Resources, HVAC, and Horticulture. The recently updated Applied Science Complex includes hands-on skills-training labs, workshops and a greenhouse to provide a direct path from classroom to local businesses to jobs.


An outdoor lab at the College of the Desert prepares students for careers in horticulture.


The growth of the sharing economy integrated with curriculum is encouraging campuses to look at how they plan spaces and prioritize capital investments. This means expanding the vision for planning, from a single building to the entire campus and beyond to the community and surrounding industries.

A growing focus on multidisciplinary programming encourages diverse departments to break down silos and share resources within flexible, collaborative spaces. This connects seemingly unrelated disciplines in new ways to generate discoveries that can contribute to the bottom line and the student experience. Well-planned, outwardly focused generative spaces within a single building, cluster of buildings or commons can draw student populations together. Labs, maker spaces and black boxes available 24/7 can help students convert ideas into reality that feed into local industries, businesses and campus life. Students wear their caffeine-enhanced all-nighters as a badge of honor--plan spaces that recognize the creative potential of students' internal clocks.  

In still other instances, the sharing economy can reach out to nearby colleges to streamline expenses of capital-intensive projects such as dormitories and academic buildings. Loop U in Chicago, for instance, is a consortium of 22 colleges and universities that shares resources and facilities, including a live-learn residence for students from DePaul University, Roosevelt University and Columbia College. Likewise, students from the University of Minnesota Rochester and Mayo Medical School lease apartments at 318 Commons, which includes classrooms, community space, commercial space, and street-level retail in downtown Rochester. This sharing model helps build dialogue between students beyond their home campus and minimize capital risk for colleges.


A street-front restaurant invigorates 318 Commons, a shared live-learn community at the University of Minnesota Rochester.


By looking at the expansive relationship between campus, town, peer institution and industry, the sharing economy is impacting the ways colleges approach planning. As campuses become more focused on connecting curriculum to jobs, colleges increasingly will need to plan globally. As you strategize your campus planning needs, consider the following:

  • Promote the sharing economy to enhance the student experience.
  • Plan flexible, multifunctional spaces.
  • Create direct connections between students, campus, community, and enterprise.
  • Consider students your greatest resource.

Topics: Education

Design for Education

From science buildings to classrooms, residence halls and other campus landmarks, higher education architecture offers opportunities to explore new models of learning.

Featured projects >


Sign up to receive periodic education design news via email.