What if we could start over with higher education?
But many of us know that these rosy feelings mask the truth about higher education in the United States—that it’s showing its wear. Crises loom:
At many colleges and universities students simply aren't learning...
...while the price of a college education continues to skyrocket.
We think otherwise. We think a college education can be affordable and transformative, intellectually and personally. To prove it, we’re building a college of our own.
Outer Coast is a nascent two-year institution of higher education in Sitka, Alaska. Our curriculum is one for the whole person, built upon the three pillars of Academics, Service & Labor, and Self-governance.
We draw our inspiration from Deep Springs College, a small and remarkable postsecondary institution nestled in a quiet valley just east of the Sierra Nevada. Although a remarkably successful and admired educational institution, nearly a century after its founding Deep Springs remains the only college of its kind.
As at Deep Springs, Outer Coast students will self-govern. Students hire faculty, determine curriculum and course offerings, serve on the Board of Trustees, legislate academic and student life policies, and serve as the admissions committee to select incoming classes.
Outer Coast will offer a rigorous liberal arts environment, in which a sincere appreciation for learning and intellectual inquiry is encouraged. Excellence in pedagogy and student scholarship are hallmarks of the project.
We believe in the value of labor as soulcraft and the power of service as a moral education that can instill a lifelong obligation of service to society. Students will assume a labor responsibility to sustain the Outer Coast’s day-to-day operations: running the kitchen and dining hall; growing and harvesting food (vegetables from the garden, salmon from the ocean, etc.); a “work crew,” guided by a foreman-carpenter, that assists with the historic restoration and rehabilitation of Sheldon Jackson Campus’s 100-year-old buildings; and the important work of dishwashing and custodial upkeep. Similarly, students rotate through service positions and apprenticeships with organizations in the community, contributing to Sitka and its vibrant culture.
Today’s universities function more as sprawling conglomerates than as schools: they manage multi-million-dollar athletic programs, police departments, hospitals, science research facilities, massive food and residential services operations, and sprawling real estate portfolios. Meanwhile, the academic job market often discourages great teaching by providing incentives for faculty to focus primarily on research.
Our vision with Outer Coast is to create a relentlessly student-focused institution. Outer Coast faculty’s foremost obligation will be to provide a dazzling, neuron-bending intellectual experience for students, and to treat teaching as a craft in its own right. At Outer Coast, excellence in teaching is the priority.
After two years, we want Outer Coast students to have the option to transfer to four-year institutions, where they can take advantage of the resources of a larger institution. This model aspires to be the “best of the both worlds”: students can complete a robust two-year liberal arts education without crippling debt, then transition into two years of a traditional undergraduate education with a far clearer sense of themselves.
We’re working toward a new, scalable model for higher education. We think we’re off to a pretty great start.