The coronavirus pandemic has changed our perspective on education. Online education, quarantine dorms and virtual campuses have been broadly implemented in the COVID era. In the midst of this education shakeup, some businesses have begun to offer alternatives to both traditional college and our current pandemic-flavor of education. The U Experience is one such venture that promises a small number of students a mask-free, COVID-free resort campus where they can take online classes.
Marketed as “unbundling” higher education, the U Experience is a semester-long education bubble at a lake resort in Texas. Only 150 students will be admitted to their first class, with the aim to admit students that match well socially while still being diverse. Students won’t be given instruction at the U Experience. Rather, the founders of the U Experience aim to offer simply the residential experience of a pre-COVID campus, with bars, restaurants and social activities, as students continue to take their college’s courses online. Living in a bubble frees students from the need to social distance or wear masks, assuming they receive a clean bill of health upon arriving. Students won’t be able to leave campus, but they’ll be able to order groceries and other necessities and have them brough to the resort. A small medical staff will attend to students’ health.
This swanky campus won’t come cheap. Students at the U Experience will need to pay around $10,000 to attend while also paying their colleges’ regular tuitions. Included in the attendance fee is a room at the resort and one meal a day (with the resort’s restaurants being open to the student body for additional meals.) The U Experience will even offer a need-based scholarship to include some students from lower income families.
The U Experience has also faced significant criticism. A successful petition from thousands of Hawai’ians, worried that their front-line workers would bear the brunt of a potential failure to contain the campus’s bubble, cancelled the U Experience’s plans for a fall semester at a resort in Hawai’i. Others are concerned that students lack the discipline to maintain truly impenetrable bubble. Whether the U Experience’s bubble will succeed, as it succeeded at the NBA playoffs earlier this year at Walt Disney World, is up in the air. The U Experience’s semester starts January 28th, 2021.