I read this Tweet and wanted to give an honest take at how I would imagine my ideal university education.
Before jumping in, what value should any college experience provide?
- Exploration of interests
- A push to think critically about the world
- Further specialization in a field
- Learn practical skills to venture into the real world
Some context: I studied at Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts college (LOVED IT). I did a lot of (1) (2) & (3), but had to carve my own ways to achieve (4).
If I were to do it over, how could I take all the good parts of my college experience, throw away the bad parts and, with what I know now about the "real world", add in a few new parts?
First, what were the good parts?
- a lot of afforded exploration (e.g. no intially declared major, choices of classes & electives)
- new & cool people to meet → community
- semblance of structure and a path towards a goal
- encouragement to explore other interests outside of academics
- option to study abroad :)
Now, what were some of the bad?
- not a lot of "practical" applications to concepts I learn in class e.g. more theory that won't apply to a likely job
- no Real World or soft skills (e.g. finances, rent contracts, etc.)
- juggling several classes all at once (context switching, no focus at any one point in time)
- lauding a NUMBER as an outcome, not a tangible, realized result
- extremely expensive (I was lucky to be granted a scholarship but if otherwise, I would never have been able to afford it!)
- relatively long - why DO we need 4 years?
How would I reimagine the university of the future?
- The make-up of any incoming class is going to be extremely diverse and accessible to all types of students (e.g. international).
- The typical number of years is 3. There's no such thing as a GPA.
- The structure for a typical first 2 years consists of 4 "rotations" in different fields of study you're interested in. You pay per rotation you're a part of, with varying rates depending on materials needed, and each rotation will come in affordable rates (max $10k).
- You must live in the same area with other people in that rotation for that set period of time.
- Some of these rotations are international!
- Each rotation has 2 parts: the first is a 3-month bootcamp taught by professionals in that field.
- The second part is a whole 3 months that requires you to chose between a project intensive or working as an apprentice to a professional.
- The project intensive requires an outcome at the very end of those 3 months (research, app, art installation) with a "demo day" for all folks in that rotation.
- The apprenticeship will start with a matching process, setup by the institution & a final assessment from the professional.
- After the end of the 6 months, you choose a new rotation. Ideally, at the very end, you will have found the path that speaks most to you.
- The last year will be an even longer intensive in your field of choice, and will be suited to the path you take. The intensives will result in outcomes and will be geared towards practical training (how do you sell your art, how do you get people to subscribe to your weekly newsletters, how do you build an app and sell it on the app store).
- You will be provided at least 1 mentor and will join a community.
- Every 3 months, the institution will also host optional workshops that help with soft skills and practical things to know in the Real World (e.g. finances, communication techniques, how to rent, negotiation, productivity hacks)
- At the end of those 3, cheap, wonderful, exploratory, practical years, you will be ready for the Real World! But, if you feel you need a break or don't yet want to go into the Real World, you have a whole year (compared to what you may normally have had) to meander if you so choose.
Could this work?
I don't know that the "no GPA" concept will work well for certain professions like medicine. (I hope my doctors are somewhat objectively measured in competence.)
This also, at the end of it, has to be a sustainable model & would have to make sure that the $10k max accounts for a lot of the other hidden expenses to create an institution like this.
There are definitely a lot of logistical things to account for but I think it would be a kickass university to be a part of. Don't you?
How far away are we from this reality?
Thinking about it, there are semblances of this structure out there: Minerva, Waterloo's part-academics / part-internship structure, bootcamps/fellowships (e.g. Software Engineer, On Deck), APM rotation programs.
We may not be too far off from this reimagined reality.