The Future Of Higher Education Series: My College Degree, Take One

As Art Director here at Siera, I do everything from creating new presentation templates to discussing which color of yellow is right for our web palette. One of the things I like most about working for Siera and getting to know its founders, Pat Wagner and Leif Smith, is the discovery of kindred spirits, fellow travelers who question the status quo of education. In this series, I’ll address the trajectory of higher education in a personal context. If you’d like to connect with me, send a message to bronwen@patternresearch.com

From my days at Alpine Valley School. (I’m the short one in the middle.)

I’ve had my fair share of varied experiences, but with almost three years of a four-year degree under my belt, I’m still searching for the right balance in an educational model. My interest in alternative education began at twelve years old, around the time public school was driving me to pull out every hair on my head. I am blessed with a supportive family, especially my mother, who helped me find a school outside the shortsighted academic model of the mainstream. The first time I read Free At Last, by Daniel Greenberg, founder of Sudbury Valley School in Sudbury, Massachusetts, my mind opened in a way I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We were fortunate to discover that Colorado boasts its own Sudbury school. I attended Alpine Valley School for five years and graduated as the equivalent of a high school senior. Its mixed age environment, lack of grades, democratic governance and student-driven learning changed how I think about school.

Directly out of Alpine Valley, I jumped into the fray at Metropolitan State College of Denver, a large commuter campus in downtown Denver. Immersed in conventional class structures for the first time since my pre-teens, I had to relearn how to play the game. What are textbooks full of facts and tests designed for their regurgitation if not a game? Our society loves a good competition, and here, as in the professional sports we idolize, those best suited for the specific skills required rise to the top. Unfortunately, this design fatally overlooks the span of human ingenuity and fails to nurture the almost unlimited array of learning preferences.

My stint at Metro lasted about two years, and included three changes to my major, a month in France, and the worst professor I’ve ever had. Dropping out was a relief. I let go of the quest for a degree and focused on supporting myself while developing my hobbies. Since my first job as a barista at sixteen, I’ve worked to pay my own way as much as possible. This drive for independence fits well with my tendency toward alternative education. I kept alive the dream that one day I would find the perfect college, something like a Sudbury school for higher ed. I knew there were non-traditional colleges out there—Evergreen State College in Washington and Hampshire in Cambridge, to name a few—but so far, nothing had seemed right. That is, until a friend told me about his experience at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. It felt like Alpine Valley all over again. I thought my whole life was about to change.

To be continued…

Next up in The Future Of Higher Education Series: Trouble In Paradise

2 thoughts on “The Future Of Higher Education Series: My College Degree, Take One

  1. Hi, Bronwen,
    Great start to the series. If you’d like another perspective, let me know and I’d be happy to contribute an article on a topic of your choice. Meanwhile, have you checked out Western Governors University? It’s inexpensive, competency based (I know Pat has a problem with that term) and student driven. It looks very interesting to me and is probably what I would choose if I were starting over, plus I’d love to hear your perspective on it. It does have a very limited selection of degrees.
    Looking forward to your next post.

  2. Thanks, Dixie! I’m still writing the series, but as it shapes up, I could see it being interesting and informative to have another perspective. Not to mention one with such a wealth of knowledge!

    I looked into Western Governors University a little bit. The competency-based model is intriguing; I think the catch would be how clear the expectations are made for evaluation. That’s definitely part of the trouble I had with Goddard–never knowing when enough was enough. Currently, I am intrigued by Thomas Edison State College. I like that they have rolling enrollment and such a liberal credit acceptance policy. One of the advantages appears to be that you can take courses at community colleges on the cheap, or even participate in free MOOCs, for credit. But I wonder, aren’t you paying tuition to Thomas Edison at the same time?

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