Florida International U.'s Biscayne Bay Campus Video by Steven Martine

Rising Threat

As the climate changes and seas swell, coastal colleges struggle to prepare

When the water comes, the familiar campus life will come to an end. Classes will be relocated or moved online; students will be forced to abandon the deluged library; campus construction plans will have to be overhauled, if not scrapped.

The impact is almost unimaginable, but it is only a matter of time. That the climate is changing and the seas will continue rising are no longer in question. The uncertainty now is how much and how soon.

For many colleges and universities on America’s coasts, the threat is no longer theoretical. Sea-level rise — along with increased stormwater from altered weather patterns and the possibility of more-frequent, more intense hurricanes — is already a concern.

Colleges Line America's Coasts

Here’s how four colleges, urban and rural, from Virginia to California, are struggling to prepare for the future. Several face difficult circumstances because of local politics as well as their locations. And although the threats are clear, the cost of preparation often discourages action or puts off efforts to build in resiliency, as immediate problems are dealt with.

These colleges have sought to build better research and community partnerships, improve facilities, and develop smart disaster plans. But each one acknowledges that more — much more — needs to be done.

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