Blog Post

Designing Higher Education from Scratch - Our College

The students in Professor Cathy N. Davidson's face-to-face course at Duke University have created a first draft of some basic, preliminary ideas for their collaborative project on "Designing Higher Education from Scratch." Please find below a "napkin sketch" for your comments and feedback, created by a project team in the Duke "History and Future of Higher Education" course. For more information about this project, please see this post.

Our College

Motto: “Helping students engineer bridges toward our future…”


Background: In today’s world, landing a good job and a secure income often depends on graduating from a four year college. Unfortunately college completion rates for students from low-income families are significantly lower than their higher-income counterparts. While the reasons for this are complex, it is partially due to the fact that students from low-income families often do not have access to quality high school education and therefore are not equipped with the skills needed to thrive in college.


Mission: Our College is a small low-cost junior/community college aimed at equipping promising students with the skills they need to succeed in a rigorous higher education environment. Our College targets the underserved population of low-income students [in the city where we are located] who enter college without the skills and support they need to succeed.


We value:

  • Developing student’s abilities for self-teaching and critical thinking
  • Students engaging their teachers as well as their peers
  • Innovative effective teaching
  • Intellectual freedom for students and teachers


We intervene by:

  • Providing underprivileged, promising students of all ages from the community where we are located low-cost access to quality learning experiences
  • Emphasizing Service Learning
  • Real-world capstone project
  • Structured mentorship (peer/professor)
  • Offering salaries and working conditions that inspire and support professors who excel at innovative and dynamic teaching


Our students:

  • Come from low-income families based in the region where we are located
  • Are intelligent and motivated to succeed through advancing into higher education.
  • Come from educational backgrounds that did not fully prepare them for the challenges of college



  • In order to keep costs down, Our College does not have a university campus, but rather is located in a low-cost office building in an area convenient to our student body.
  • It is a commuter school; there are no on-campus housing options.
  • With the exception of college counseling, our student resources are kept to a minimum in order to keep administration small and tuition at a very affordable level.
  • Part of our administration needs would be met through a work-study program for students who would serve the university while attending classes.
  • Tenure is not a feature of Our College. In lieu of tenure, all professors are paid high salaries and good benefits. Teaching performance is evaluated every three years through a combination of peer-to-peer evaluations, teaching portfolios, student outcomes, self-evaluation, and other yet-to-be-determined forms of evaluation. If a teacher receives a negative teaching evaluation, they are given one year to improve their performance.



  • Our College focuses on the delivery of transferrable skills instead of the traditional silos or disciplines of higher education.
  • Since the focus of Our College is learning how to learn, classes focus on critical thinking, rhetoric and communication, language and composition, mathematical reasoning, scientific exploration, and aesthetic interpretation.
  • Our College intends to foster an environment dedicated to student learning. Teachers at Our College recognize that students learn in a variety of ways, and they are dedicated to a constant review of teaching methods and practices.

1 comment

Taking last as first, it looks like your "curriculum" resonates with the old Trivium/Quadrivium in new cloth. There are a number of charter schools which have adopted this core. The issue here is that it attracts students whose parents are better educated and the students are better prepared to tackle this. Robert Bates Graber has written a small book/essay, Valuing Useless Knowledge and is guest editing an issue of On the Horizon 2014-1. There is much to address here

There are many programs that have tried, with mixed results, to prepare and offer college level courses in the public schools. One is even called Early College and serves a middle and lower income community as a public school.Charters, Shai's University of the People just was granted status to award college degrees and has no tuition and moderate charges. It would be interesting to have you put your background papers up so that the context of your program and patterns aimed at success can be reviewed.

Since you are planning for a local, CC-type, institution, it would be interesting to also see the profile of the community that you are planning to serve. Stanford, Tufts and others have been working with many communities for years in stand-alone institutes. A review of their literature that would impact on your scheme would be worth having.

There are many fences to climb to get to the goals. It would be interesting to identify through a chart exactly where to tackle the mountain and how to move forward.


I tiink that you have well articulated your ideal. Now the project needs to go beyond this MOOC. There are many who support your ideas and will join.