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ERIC Number: EJ989654
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Oct-29
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
A Tiny College Nurtures Big Ideas
Carlson, Scott
Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct 2012
The College of the Atlantic (COA)--330 students and 43 faculty members ensconced on Maine's remote Mount Desert Island--has resisted growth, seeing smallness as key to providing an unusual education that cuts across disciplines, rejects academic conventions, and takes a highly personalized approach to teaching and learning. The emphasis on smallness runs counter to the national frenzy for reinvention in higher education, which seems fixated on going online and scaling up in an effort to mass-produce knowledge (or at least degrees). Offbeat and experimental colleges like COA--think of Bennington, Goddard, Hampshire, or Unity--are often overlooked and fragile. But they bring new perspectives and techniques to higher education, in part because they are small and nimble. These colleges provide "a kind of biodiversity in the whole system of higher education." Keeping these institutions alive and healthy is a way of keeping the ideas behind these institutions alive, which is critically important for the health of higher education as a whole. In forging ahead, COA will have to find a delicate balance between changing with the times to keep itself financially sound and maintaining its intimacy and iconoclasm. Certain ideas were baked into COA at its founding, 43 years ago, and they seem to have found a currency in the discussion today over what to do about higher education. Critics talk about academics in silos, toiling on obscure research. At COA, there are no departments, and with only one degree--human ecology--students and faculty members form a culture that encourages teaching, interdisciplinarity, and pursuing one's intellectual interests. Pundits wonder whether college classes are watered down and whether degrees lead to job skills. COA's programs emphasize hands-on learning and real-world interactions; grades are optional, participation in running the college is encouraged, and internships are required. And as people worry about climate change, collapsing ecosystems, and socioeconomic inequality, lessons at COA start with sustainability. The college attracts students with crunchy values and those skeptical of traditional education.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Maine