An Open Letter

Fellow Students,

Five months from now, our country’s college seniors will smile and grab their diplomas at graduation. They will be part of the most in-debt graduating class our country has ever seen, faced with an unfriendly employment situation: about half of them will either have no job, or will settle for work that does not require a college degree. About 85% of them will move back home with their parents. These graduates, like many in recent years, will start asking an important question: what was college for?

Unfortunately, more and more, the quality and purposes of American higher education are being undermined. We see for-profit schools concerned with dividends more than students, while non-profit schools have tripled in real-cost since the 1970’s, an increase greater than any other industry, even health care. Even worse, each year shows a smaller percentage spent on actual instruction. For some time now the government has been cushioning students from the full burden of rising costs by subsidizing their tuition, but higher education funding has been drastically cut during the recent economic downturn. Despite a recent abundance of troubling research studies and journalistic criticism, there has been little progress towards improvement. Recently, The Atlantic boldly stated: “we are in need of a new model.”

We are proposing a new model of higher education that addresses both economic and academic issues, and one that reconciles theory and practice. We call it the Saxifrage School. The school would offer students a world-class higher education at a tuition rate of $5,000 per year, holding class in underutilized spaces on its neighborhood campus. Rather than a single discipline, students will study in an integrated dual-major program focused on productive inquiry. Our goal is for graduates to be both capable producers and inquirers. They will learn how to design and make things and judge and communicate ideas.

By relying on community partnerships and an integrated campus we are offering a simplified model. The 500 student school we have envisioned could be founded and launched into financially sustainable operations for just $2,000,000–less than 1/10th the cost of a single new mid-sized academic building at many colleges. For the past year, the Saxifrage School has been refining plans, recruiting team members, and conducting research to help make this idea a reality.

We’ve just begun our fund-raising stage, starting it off nicely by receiving a small start-up grant from the Sprout Fund. As we continue our development, we want to ask for your support to help set the foundation for our organization. To do this, we are looking to raise $25,000. Your tax-deductible contribution will help fund our first real classroom prototypes, further research for our academic and financial models, and the hiring of our first paid Director to lead our volunteer effort.

As our nation’s student debt passes $1,000,000,000,000 the future of the University needs a new direction and a new hope. We begin 2012 with a sense of urgency. There is a lot of work yet to do. Help us as we work to redesign higher education for the next generation.

In earnest,

Timothy Cook, Founder

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