Clicks and Mortar

In 1857, British author Charles Dickens was first to use the phrase “Bricks and Mortar” (1982, 6, 9) in his novel Little Dorrit. He coined the expression to refer to businesses and schools as physical buildings. In his novel, Dickens challenged the idea of business and educational institutions. Bricks and mortar were the places where employers and employees went to work and the colleges, universities, and seminaries where professors and students went to teach and learn. However, 161 years later, an amendment to the phrase has been made, especially with reference to higher education; in place of “bricks and mortar,” we now read of “clicks and mortar.”

In a recent qualitative survey, the Pew Research Center (2017) published the findings of Elon University. Those findings were something that professors, students, and parents had suspected all along. Costly higher education is no longer leading consistently to gainful employment, and because of this, students are seeking cost-effective alternatives to the traditional college experience. “Bricks and Mortar” had changed to “Clicks and Mortar.” Unlike the singular dimension of Dickens’ bricks and mortar buildings, clicks and mortar refers to a multi-dimensional interaction of professors and students online and in a physical building or, more succinctly, I.T.[1] and in-person.  

The “Click” dimension creates more flexible opportunities for students to connect with peers, mentors, and sources for enhanced learning outside of the typical “Mortar” building. At the same time, the “Mortar” dimension remains necessary for face-to-face charismatic experiences with professors and peers. After all, no one in the history of higher education has ever experienced the fullness of learning in a vacuum of self!

Consequently, clicks and mortar naturally complement each other. If not, only the wealthy will be able to afford face-to-face learning, leaving the middle to low-income students struggling to engage in mass-enrollment classes online. Such enrollment depersonalizes the individual student in a factory of automated lessons, learning, and tests.  

A Clicks and Mortar model enables somewhat of a return to the Socratic method[2] of learning, but this time it is not the bricks and mortar of the ancient Acropolis, it is the multi-dimensional learning experience of I.T. and in-person. The experience provides peer-to-peer collaboration with students from around the world.

In the Elon University survey, 1,021 internet experts, researchers, observers, and users were asked to comment on the idea of clicks and mortar. The majority of respondents clearly stated bricks and mortar was no longer an economic viability (2012). Higher education had simply become too expensive with a negative return on investment.

The financial monopoly on higher education churns out students like widgets who, in turn, are taught to churn out widgets themselves. The monopoly mantra is simple: there is only one right answer.[3] Uninvolved professors spew out the right answer and expect their students to spew it back in quizzes, tests, midterms, and exams. And so, the machine of higher education sustains its self-fulfilling prophecy at the tragic expense of students.      

This kind of automated learning did not produce the giants of American innovation: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, and IBM. Neither did it produce the restaurants that students tend to rely on while in higher education: Burger King, Chick-fil-A, KFC, McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, and Whataburger. Churning out widgets did not produce retail stores like J. C. Penny, Sears, Nordstrom, and Macy’s.[4] Furthermore, if the monopolizing mantra of one answer had not been challenged, Uber would never have become the American phenomena it is today.  

Online interaction with professors and peers in higher education is not the issue at stake. What is really at stake is that universities are not structured to provide current skills and applications necessary to succeed in the marketplace. Students do not just need a degree. They need to how to digest large amounts of information and craft it into a coherent and convincing idea. It is overwhelmingly difficult to achieve this outcome when students are herded into oversized lecture rooms in order to spew back esoteric facts to their professors.

The future of higher education¾clicks and mortar—untethers access to knowledge from the single dimension of a physical campus. The evolution of radio, television, computers, and telecommunications were predicted to revolutionize the transmission of knowledge from the professor to the student and from peer-to-peer. However, since students first officially gathered at the University of Bologna in 1088 (Fox 2017), the transmission of knowledge and the evaluation/grading of that knowledge is largely the same.

Some things are timeless. However, students simply need an affordable and accredited alternative, and this means change.     

The findings of our own qualitative research at SEU-Celebration show two distinct student categories in two groups.


1.     Category one is students from 18-20 something who want higher education.

a.     Group one has no clear direction on employment in the marketplace.

b.     Group two has clear direction on employment in the marketplace.

2.     Category two is mature students who want higher education.

a.     Group one respondents want to reinvent themselves by changing careers in the marketplace.

b.     Group two want to remain in their employment but have a strong desire to bring Christ-centered knowledge into the marketplace. 


The commonality in both categories and groups is a desire for employment in the marketplace. Employment must be the result of higher education. For this reason, we are launching the new Acropolis in August 2018.

Our vision at SEU-Celebration is "cultural transformation in the marketplace, one graduate student at a time". Our mission is to provide higher education that works and offers engaging interaction with world-class professors, marketplace experts, and personalized mentors. We will accomplish this mission through affordable, excellent, accredited education cultivated in a collaborative and integrated environment in-person and online. We want to lead the industry with the highest employment rate after graduation. Our model is higher education that can work because we are accountable to our students and will make sure they see a return on their investment.

Dickens was bold enough to challenge certain societal structures in his novel Little Doritt. His novel was not only bold, it also brought about positive change to the issues he addressed. This short article is bold enough to state a rapidly growing concern of professors, students, and parents. Higher education is no longer affordable, and it does not necessarily deliver on its promise. I am confident that SEU-Celebration is a positive response to this concern through its provision of affordable and accredited education that delivers on its promise in the marketplace.   



Cited Sources

Dickens, Charles. (1982). Little Doritt. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fox, Andrew. (2017). “Southeastern University at Celebration Church: Why? And Why Now?” Accessed February 10, 2018.

Peter, Laurence and Raymond Hull. (2011). The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. New York: Harper Business.  

Pew Research Center. (2017). “The Future of Higher Education.” Accessed February 10, 2018.

[1] Information Technology.

[2] A form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.

[3] There are, of course, instances in some disciplines in which only one answer is correct. However, I am referring to philosophical, problem-solving, creative, innovative, industrial, and entrepreneurial answers.

[4] Ironically, it may be the widget process that threatens to close these giants in the present day.

Dr. Andrew K. Fox