Graduate Fayetteville won’t participate in The U Experience ‘bubble’ campus program

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

A Fayetteville hotel that had been in talks with a startup company offering a “bubble” college campus for virtual learning won’t be moving forward as a partner location this fall.

Founders of a company called The U Experience recently unveiled plans to partner with multiple hotels to offer college students whose courses have moved online an alternative on where to live and study during the upcoming semester.

Graduate Fayetteville was one of the two locations listed on the company’s website earlier this week alongside Park Shore Waikiki in Hawaii. The story was first reported by Business Insider.

The company planned to charge students a base rate of $12,000 (Fayetteville) or $15,000 (Waikiki) that includes a private bedroom and bathroom, unlimited WiFi and coffee, and access to other amenities like gyms, study lounges, event halls, a restaurant, bar and a swimming pool.

The idea was to offer the same type of college experience that a student would normally enjoy on campus instead of staying at home while taking online classes during the pandemic.

From the website:

We believe that the “online-only” option being presented for the fall 2020 semester allows for something unprecedented. A student’s choice of environment is now limited only by internet access. Students making progress toward their degree at one institution may wish to have the kind of non-academic experience that another university has to offer. Think “Harvard education meets University of Hawaii campus.”

The company’s handbook stated that all students must take a COVID-19 test after being admitted and adhere to a strict set of safety protocols throughout the semester. The handbook stated that students must agree to take their temperature every day and submit a snapshot of the result through an app, and also must obtain advance permission to re-enter the “campus” if they leave for any reason.

The plan, however, saw backlash from people in Hawaii who didn’t like the idea of bringing in outsiders during a pandemic, as later reported by Business Insider. A petition against the program has so far received over 12,500 signatures.

As a result, The U Experience on Tuesday issued a statement saying that it had parted ways with both hotels and that it would postpone the start date of its program.

Company officials said they will seek new partners, but not before working more closely with prospective communities to ensure that their health and safety practices are better understood.

When reached for comment, a Graduate Fayetteville representative pointed to a statement from company officials.

The statement did not list any specific reason for ending talks with The U Experience, but did confirm that none of the company’s hotels would be participating in the program.

“We were in early discussions with the U Experience team regarding Graduate Fayetteville being a potential location for this new offering, but we ultimately made the mutual decision to hold off at this time,” said David Rochefort, president of Graduate Hotels. “Graduate Fayetteville will not be part of U Experience this fall, nor will any other hotels in the Graduate Hotels portfolio. As a brand, we remain focused on serving the specific needs of the university communities we are positioned within during both the semester ahead and years to come.”