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Universitas

A university with no degrees
Image source: Canstockphoto.com

It's no secret that education in the USA needs an overhaul. Especially higher education, which has gotten more expensive and less meaningful with each passing year. I mean, I have $30,000 in student loan debt, no degree, and a higher income than the rest of my family combined. My sister has $20,000 in student loan debt, a bachelor's degree, and trouble finding a job. I think this speaks volumes about the efficacy of our education system. (It also speaks volumes about our economic model, but more on that later.) But the really soul-crushing thing is… both of us want to change the world and neither of us has a clue where to start.

There are thousands of intelligent and driven people out there - many of them teenagers and young adults - who, bored with regular school, educate themselves in a trade or a field and then go make a difference. Need examples? Here's a list:

All of these kids are intelligent individuals who saw a problem and made the decision to find a solution. And for each one of them, there are a thousand more who lack the resources or the environment they need to succeed. They need a place where problem solving is encouraged, where critical thinking is prized, where their value is measured by ambition and not test scores.

I propose we change that. Let's create a place for the innovators. A place for the thinkers and the doers who could achieve so much more if our pathetic public education system wasn't holding them back. Let's create a community where the learners and the self-starters have access to the tools they need to change the world. Instead of putting these intelligent and motivated kids into a lecture hall where the life and ambition is sucked out of them, let's put them into a giant nerd-playground and put them to work solving the world's biggest problems.

And now that I've established this grandiose vision, let's get specific about what it will look like.

Universitas

A university with no classes, no lectures, no exams, no homework, and no degree.

Students find a problem they want to solve, then apply for research grants to solve it. A portion of the grant covers tuition at The University where they have open access to knowledge, lab space, collaborative tools, professors, and other students - all of which they can use to find the solution to their problem. The "University" would essentially be a giant independent-study toolbox for nerdy kids who are bored by traditional education and care more about making a difference than they do about a 6-figure income.

A university-like campus dedicated completely to research. Funding would come through the research grants. Incoming students pick their problem and then apply for the grants themselves. Private donations lead to politics, so I want to avoid the classical "endowment" structure seen so frequently in large private universities. Online anonymous tax-deductible donations would definitely be an option. There would be no degree program nor courses, so accreditation is out of the picture and federal education funding with it. Paying for this place is obviously going to be the hard part.

The University would have libraries, peer-reviewed journals, myriad labs, and a small staff of professorial advisors to guide students one-on-one in their research. Since getting grant approval is prerequisite to attending the university, there would most likely be a "prep school" in place for students to come and research and prepare their grant proposals. The prep school may more slightly resemble a traditional university, with classes and a curriculum - this would help filter out the lazy students and also open the door for state and federal education funding.

The goal would be to make The University free for the students, so economic status would NEVER be a limiting factor. It may be that it would partner with a traditional school with an accredited degree program for students who actually want that useless piece of paper, but mostly I want this to be a place where people come with ideas and ambition and are empowered to change the world.

What do you think?

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