Read Our Favorites and Vote
When we invited readers to imagine what kind of college they would create if they could start one from scratch, we weren't sure what to expect. Sure enough, the scores of entries we received—from professors, administrators, and undergraduate students, well-known leaders in higher-education and interested bystanders—ran the gamut.
Some entries were abstract and idealistic; others offered as many details about budgets and curricula as could fit in our 500-word limit. Most were prose descriptions, but we received two videos and quite a few poems. You pick the winning entry, by voting below.
In about two weeks, we’ll announce the winner and reveal the identities of the five finalists.
I model my proposed college after a law firm. Just as senior lawyers own the firm and delegate various administrative responsibilities, I would have a college where faculty own the institution, and administrators work for faculty, rather than vice versa.
Like Costco stores, my Costco University would keep costs down by stinting on everything other than what matters: delivery of relevant services to the end user. (No, students aren't customers, even if they are paying the bills.)
Thus, institutional infrastructure is to be avoided, with savings passed along to the students. Dining halls, residence halls, athletics programs, even libraries are unnecessary, provided that the campus is in a big city, and students have access to the Internet. Ideally, costs could be kept sufficiently low that tuition would cover everything. So that this makes economic sense, assume that each professor makes $80,000 a year and teaches four courses per semester, or eight courses a year. With typical overhead, each course costs $20,000 a year to teach.
If 10 students take each course, each needs to pay $2,000 a course. At four courses a semester, or eight courses a year, tuition could be $16,000 a year. OK, maybe the cost of classroom rental is extra—everything is rented. A generous estimate of the cost of classroom rental is $50 an hour, or $5 per hour per student, amounting to about $225 per student for 45-classroom-hour course.
Students might have to pay, say, a $4,000 administrative fee, bringing their tuition to $20,000 a year. (Sorry, no scholarships are possible with this arrangement.).
A major strength of the existing model of higher education is its combination of research and teaching. A sister institution, Costco Research and Development, might be created to generate revenue by allowing Costco U professors a vehicle for creating intellectual property. The most obvious model here is the Stanford Research Institute, which does contract research in science and technology.
However, Costco U. humanities professors will also be encouraged to generate revenue by creating, for example, MOOC course content. While both Costco U. and Costco Research must remain separate, half-time appointments in each, or other forms of close cooperation, will be encouraged. Indeed, certain courses at Costco U. could involve internships at Costco Research.
If the entrepreneur Peter Thiel is willing to provide funds to people not to go to college, perhaps he, or someone like him, would be willing to spring for the necessary start-up money. Founding faculty members would then buy into the partnership, just as new law-firm partners do.
Perhaps leading universities, too, would buy into the Costco U. concept. Since they are blessed with many more qualified candidates for both students and faculty than they can possibly handle, perhaps Costco U. could be composed entirely of such candidates, without any further effort at selection
Let's Go Monk! The 21st-Century Monastery, Reinvented
In most discussions about reforming higher education, intellectuals argue about how to move us forward into the 21st century. With all due respect, I disagree. I would move higher education backward. In my reinvented university, we go back about 800 years. We become monks.
Instead of attracting visitors, this university would frighten away prospective students with strict vows of poverty, charity, and abstinence from social media. College is not for wimps. Upon entry, students don identical robes woven from the same fabric as sweatpants (decorative belts are permitted.) All mobile devices, including laptops and iPads, are confiscated at the gatehouse and may be reclaimed by their owners only upon going into town to buy toothpaste. All intracollege communication takes place with quill, ink, and parchment; calligraphy is the new cursive.
Academically, the co-ed university enrolls students in single-sex classes no larger than 15. The academic year is 12 months, as is the calendar year for the rest of the planet, with two six-week vacations and two months spent in a foreign country.
Throughout the year, the university pursues multidisciplinary answers to one Big Question, such as the clean-water crisis, peace in the Middle East, or how to fix American public education. When parents ask, "What are you doing with that education?," these students answer, "Saving the world."
The curriculum is set for the first two years. All students take the same foundational courses in philosophy, world religion, the Great Books as defined by Mortimer Adler, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and the history of China, Russia, India, and Britain. In addition, students must study Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, or Hindi. In order to save the world, you have to be able to know who's in it.
The third year matches each student with a faculty mentor who guides him or her through a multidisciplinary capstone project. This provides ample opportunity for students to collect "when my professor came in wearing her pajamas" stories and to develop their research skills. It is common during this year to begin working at the college-owned vineyard or brewery, for self-evident reasons.
Students are forbidden, upon risk of expulsion, to create résumés or start the job search until the fourth year. During that year, students leave the university and the robes for full-time internships with alumnae. They are, however, required to wear capes to remind them that their purpose in life is to (remember?) save the world.
In addition to growing wine and making beer, students grow and cook all of their own food. This lowers tuition costs and complaints about the quality of cafeteria food. When they're not studying or cooking, students chill out in one of the many dance halls on campus. Most of those come with disco balls and repetitions of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," although there is a Regency-era ballroom where students dance as the characters do in Jane Austen.
They might be monks, but they're well-educated monks. Who's with me?
College of the Global Village
With an emphasis on experiential learning through a multidisciplinary investigation of varied meanings and practices of the good life; an immersion into the experience of new languages, including those of literature, the visual and performing arts, and the STEM disciplines; and the acquisition of an additional spoken and written language through living and learning in a culture where that language is primary, it is the objective of the College of the Global Village, through disciplined engagement, to strive to refocus learning on depth of experience rather than breadth of knowledge.
Through a first year in which students participate in four immersive blocks of study, each eight weeks long, College of the Global Village requires all students to participate in a course of research and writing in which everyone is expected to construct meaning and to create knowledge rather than being mere receptacles of previously digested information.
Through a topic of one's choice from the arts and humanities or a STEM discipline, students will be matched with experts in their chosen field, including those from academia as well as nonteaching professionals with whom students collaborate on a research-and-writing project that enables them to explore both the process of deep research and the complexities of ideas leading to the written work they will produce.
A second required block is "The History of Science and Ecology," in which students learn the principles of those disciplines through field study of the relationship between the allocations and usage of resources in their college community and local economy.
A third block is devoted to engagement with great books, in which students converse with authors and their characters about the moral choices they faced and the implications of these choices in both the texts and the life experiences of the students.
The year concludes with a language-immersion experience in a part of the world that is unfamiliar to the student, engaging awareness of self and others through navigation of territory beyond the boundaries of his or her experience.
During the second and third years at the College of the Global Village, all students are asked to fulfill eight additional learning blocks, through choices of multidisciplinary courses such as "A Guided Inquiry Into the Role of Museums and Concert Halls in Civil Society" and "The Transformation of the World From Nation-States to Global Networks." The emphasis of those and additional offerings is to enable the students to develop practical applications of their learning in a context greater than a single classroom affords.
The fourth year is spent in a guided internship overseen by a professor or community leader, which includes a weekly integrative seminar with all students in their internships, to share their diverse learning experiences.
The Mobile University
Higher education offers students the opportunity to find out who they are, what they do not know, and some insight into as many as two or three subject areas. If a university or college pretends to do more, then it is probably guilty of misleading marketing. One way of achieving those three goals is setting up a four-year "mobile college," whose "home" is defined not by place but by just four faculty mentors—one each in the social sciences, the humanities, the sciences, and the arts—who move from institution to institution over four years with a cohort consisting of no more than 40 students.
The best way to help students discover who they are is to take them abroad, put them into a foreign environment, and expose them to how the "other" sees them and their nation. Their first-year curriculum is the liberal arts.
In the second year students are placed, by agreement, in an American college or university that offers top-quality faculty and curriculum in the social sciences, where they also continue to study the language of the place where they spent their first year. The second-year focus is on the meaning of citizenship in a democratic society, studied in interdisciplinary fashion.
In their third year, students are placed in an American college or university staffed by outstanding faculty in the sciences and the humanities. They continue studying the second language.
In their final year, the students return to complete their studies at a university in the same nation where they began their studies. They become proficient in that second language and demonstrate a high level of expertise in one or more subject areas, and very likely demonstrate some interdisciplinary expertise.
This approach makes use of existing institutions of higher education, relying on carefully designed articulation agreements between the mobile college and the institutions visited by the students. Each of the four faculty members is dedicated to outstanding teaching and mentorship, and each is paid $25,000 per year, plus room, board, and travel expenses. One of the faculty members earns an additional stipend of $25,000 for arranging articulation agreements and for handling travel and accommodations. A rough cost estimate of four years for the mobile college is $1.5-million, comprising a comprehensive fee for each of the 40 students of about $37,500. Host institutions in the United States should provide some aid, or reduced tuition costs equal to their average discount.
The mobile college's success depends on selecting outstanding faculty mentors, along with international institutions whose tuition charges are subsidized by their governments and domestic institutions eager to add adventuresome students at a discounted rate; identifying 40 intellectually focused and risk-loving students who will agree to a legally binding, four-year contract (dropping out is not an option); getting accreditation; and probably raising some private support for a number of financially challenged students.
Inspiration is paramount in survival situations,
To continually push hard, and exude dedication,
To observe and recite precise information,
The reason we pursue a higher education.
If we're starting from scratch then it should be noted first,
Current universities have been well executed,
But what more could we do, to describe and enhance,
Reinvent university with precision diligence.
For starters, diversity is key for excitement,
As this university is made to share cultures and stories,
No black or white issues where race is divided,
This is open to the world, and everyone is invited.
And we're living in the future, so the future is embraced,
All science departments and green studies take place,
If there is ever a problem, our students won't sweat it,
Next week for finals, our students will invent it!
Of course there are issues of payment and tuition,
Which current institutions seem to abuse and get away with.
Our solution is simple: Just pay when you can,
Since we have faith in your future, your debt is the least of our cares.
Or better yet, you can work off your dues,
As you can teach classes to your classmates, too!
Innovative options will keep our university alive,
As students stay focused, successful, and thrive!
No fee hikes, increases, or surprise bill inflation,
As our admins are alumni in cooperative education,
All working together for one common goal,
The benefits of volunteering, until the next student body gets old!
Emphasis on technology, creating, and sharing,
A "World's Fair" style nirvana and utopian place,
It's possible this style has been tried already,
But our university will excel in awareness.
In survival situations, remember inspiration
But the Reinvention of University? Please, without hesitation—
Diversity, technology, and emphasis on innovation!
We're ready and waiting for your application!