Innovative Higher Education

Welcome to Our mission is to be resource for students interested in innovative higher undergraduate education. Innovative undergraduate schools challenge how and why we learn. Instead of being taught down to, students are equal learners in the classroom, and are left to explore, change, and grow as individuals. Many innovative schools value emotions and the whole human. For those who come from high school in a cynical state of mind, or those who have been brought up in innovative environments, these schools and programs are safe havens that allow them to challenge and grow in ways traditional education does not.

Below is brief history of innovative higher education and the philosophy behind it. There’s also a further resources section, a section with a brief description of many of the innovative undergraduate schools still around (with links to their websites), and a section devoted to student work and thoughts about their education.

Table of Contents:



Moden Innovative Undergraduate Programs

Further Resources

Section for Students


There are many names these schools have been known by: maverick, alternative, progressive, distinctive but they all share a different vision of higher education. Joy Rosenzweig Kliewer identified five characteristic of these schools:

1) Student-Centered Education (students shape their own courses, they co-teach)
2) Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning (faculty teach at the intersections of the disciplines, stepping outside the boundaries of disciplinary boxes)
3) Egalitarianism (participatory community governance - town meetings/consensus -- students and faculty are on a first name basis, titles and ranks are not used.
4) Experiential, out-of-classroom learning, students venture out into the world
5) An institutional focus on teaching vs. research (faculty have the freedom to invent new courses, there is an intensity about teaching, it's "teach or perish" in such schools)


The history of innovative higher education can be identified by several historical epochs: The 1850’s, 1900’s, 1930’s, and 1960’s

The Civil War:

The first generation of what might be termed innovative schools, appeared during the Civil War. These were colleges like Berea College, and Antioch College. They opened their doors to women, African Americans, and others students who were not originally served by mainstream education. Although the pedagogy of these schools was not so different from other universities and colleges, they still challenged the social norms of what and who could be taught. Berea would also become one of the first schools to implement labor as a required part of their curriculum. The labor program at Berea supports the school, and allows tuition to be more or less covered for every student, even today. Antioch eventually became one of earliest leaders in innovative education in general, through innovative classrooms, degrees, pedagogy, and social activism. As of now, the college is closed down, but alumni are working hard to revitalize this important college.

The turn of the century and the road toward progressivism:

The second generation of innovative schools were closely tied to the progressivism that was still evolving in America, particularly in education. Thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau were questioning what American education could be. Soon, thinkers like John Dewey and Robert M. Hutchins would enter the stage and question the whole structure of higher education. In the mean time, L.L. Nunn would create one of the most radical and famous innovative undergraduate programs: Deep Springs College (1917). The program was developed to instruct a meritocratic male elite. Very little has changed since its creation besides some newer facilities. Students still go to an isolated part of Eastern California and have an intensive liberal arts experience coupled with a ranch work. The governmental structure is egalitarian, with students running a significant portion of the school. One student is even on the Board of Trustees.

Reform, classical, and progressive schools at their height:

John Dewey, Robert M. Hutchins, Alexander Mieklejohn, John Andrew Rice, and many others, lead a revolution challenging the German research model of the university. Robert M. Hutchins lead the charge for a classics based education that looked at developing intellectuals, instead of creating people ready for vocations. His solution for undergraduate education was for students to read from the greatest thinkers in the Western world: a Great Books program. He would attempt to implement this at the University of Chicago by creating the College of the University of Chicago. The school ultimately collapsed after he left the presidency of the school. However, it would be revitalized quickly in two of his admirers, Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan at St. John’s College.
Originally founded as St. Williams College in the 17th century, St. Johns was a liberal arts college that was on the verge of collapse by 1937. Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr were recruited to help save the school. They envisioned and created a college dedicated to the Great Books. Scott Buchanan was influenced by Alexander Meikeljohn, who was also a follower of Hutchins. Today, this program still stands much as it has since 1937. The list of 100 Great Books every student is required to read is almost exactly intact. The books are always taught in the same chronological order and almost on the exact same days every year.
Another protege of Hutchins, Alexander Mieklejohn, would create an innovative college at the University of Wisconsin, again borrowing many of Hutchins ideas.

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann gives a strong summary of the history the college:

In 1923, Alexander Meiklejohn was fired as President of Amherst College for, among other things, attempting to require interdisciplinary study, encouraging discussion instead of lecturing and stirring up controversy about current issues.(1) His articles describing an ideal college in The Saturday Review and The New Republic caught the eye of Glenn Frank, newly appointed president of the University of Wisconsin. Frank invited Meiklejohn to come to Wisconsin to create his Experimental College, which opened in 1927 with a fixed two-year “Athens to America” curriculum. Freshman studied the origins of democracy in an interdisciplinary exploration of fifth century Greece. Sophomores studied 19th and 20th century America. In the intervening summer, students analyzed their hometown, with attention to social class and economics, using the tools they’d acquired in the College. Every week, there were lectures with the entire college, meetings with twelve students and one “advisor” who rotated at six-week intervals, and individual student-teacher conferences.(2) Students talked, read and wrote.

Alexander Meiklejohn’s experiment had a scant five-year lifespan. Hazards lurked in several corners. Many will be all too familiar: University funds decreased due to the Depression, with a concomitant reduction in enrollment; University faculty felt threatened by the non-traditional pedagogy; Meiklejohn refused to administer exams; students produced an experimental production of “Antigone,” which upstaged the Greek and Drama departments; students hosted Mrs. Bertrand Russell, shunned elsewhere on campus and in town as an advocate of free love; Glenn Frank had too little political capital to defend Meiklejohn.(3)

Nonetheless, commitment to the learning community endured—grateful, dedicated alumni of the Wisconsin experiment continued to gather throughout their lifetime; the Experiment was reincarnated in Berkeley, San Jose, Old Westbury and among several of our own institutions. We continue to owe much to the vision and courage of Alexander Meiklejohn.

In his report on The Experimental College in 1932, Meiklejohn elucidated the purpose of education and the role of the faculty. He wanted to teach students to be educated citizens, to be free, to take their place in a democracy. In our current civic moment, it remains a profoundly inspiring and eerily prescient formulation.

He wrote, “Far deeper, then, than any question of curriculum or teaching method or determining conditions is the problem of restoring the courage of Americans, academic or non-academic, for the facing of the essential issues of life. How can it be brought about that the teachers in our colleges and universities shall see themselves, not only as the servants of scholarship, but also, in a far deeper sense, as the creators of the national intelligence? If they lose courage in that endeavor, in whom may we expect to find it? Intelligence, wisdom, sensitiveness, generosity, these cannot be set aside from our planning, to be, as it were, byproducts of the scholarly pursuits. They are the ends which all our scholarship and teaching serve.”(4)

On the other side of the innovative education spectrum, were the progressives like John Dewey and John Andrew Rice. They were very much opposed to Hutchinsonian education. John Dewey was a famous public intellectual, empiricist, and founder of the pragmatic school of philosophy. For him, education is the process of experiencing and experimenting that all humans practice. In his famous books Democracy and Education and Experience and Education, he demonstrated the need for students to be able to reorganize and use their experiences so as to best adapt and grow for themselves (recapitulation). He proposed for the classroom to be a place of exploration, instead of a place to be fed culturally static and abstracted information. He advocated for the creation of critical thinkers and life-long learners who could properly engage in democracy and the world.

John Andrew Rice was an iconoclastic individual who founded Black Mountain College. He was a follower of Dewey, though he had many conflicting and challenging views of his own about education. Again going to Rabbi Karlin-Neumann’s summary of the school is useful:

Booted out of Rollins College, Rice, a charismatic and audacious professor of ancient languages, in 1933, took a few friends, rented a church camp, vacant seven months of the year, and began a college. The uneven course offerings depended upon individual faculty interest and expertise. Classes were informal and interactive. The only fixed rule at Black Mountain was that there would be no Board of Trustees. Faculty worked for room and board, had utter freedom to teach what they wished, and lived among the students in the ironically named Robert E. Lee Hall. Students and faculty attended marathon, democratic meetings to determine everything from faculty termination to library acquisitions. Learning and living together in community was the hallmark of Black Mountain. Rice admired John Dewey, who visited on several occasions, and Rice encouraged interdisciplinary learning, involving emotion and experience in addition to mental exercise. When painter Josef Albers fled Nazi Germany and came to teach at Black Mountain in 1934, an emphasis on experiential education and art education blossomed at Black Mountain. Devised to address financial shortfalls, Black Mountain offered creative and innovative summer art institutes. Enhancing the college’s reputation, the summer institutes grew throughout the 40s to include notable talents in art, architecture, music and literature. Merce Cunningham taught dance steps to Buckminster Fuller. Arthur Penn directed a play produced by and set to music by John Cage.(5) Students came for the summer and stayed on.

But, throughout its history, a studied opposition to any administrative structure precipitated constant financial instability and multiple opportunities for crises, community rifts and traumatic transitions. Two of the college’s three charismatic leaders compromised the college and community by carrying out public extramarital sexual relationships. By the end, the curriculum was in disarray, courses were loosely defined and coursework was at the discretion of the student. There was little in the way of communal organization, government, ritual or even cooperation. In 1956, the improvisational experiment lost all momentum and unceremoniously disbanded.(6)

Black Mountain’s legacy is not only the talented and ground-breaking artists who taught or studied there. It is also an educational philosophy grounded in the power of association with people and with ideas, and in the rich gifts of community. The faculty was there to teach; students were there to learn. Black Mountain celebrated teaching-- testing the conviction that education should extend beyond the intellect to include human emotion and experience. Black Mountain graduates joined the faculties of and began several progressive colleges, as well as more traditional ones. In this, they carried out John Andrew Rice’s belief that “It’s up to you to make yourself better, and those who come after you, still better.(7)"

The Philosophy of Early Innovative Education:

Dewey and Hutchins are often juxtaposed because they agreed that the German research model of the university was misguided, but they very much disagreed about how to go about changing higher education. Dewey thought Hutchins’ model of education was dogmatic and did not allow for students to critically engage with learning. Hutchins' style of education was ultimately anti-democratic in Dewey’s eyes because it was not based in student thought and inquiry. Instead, people were told who and what to read. Hutchins thought Dewey and the progressives were creating schools for vocationalism instead of developing intellectuals. He felt the liberal arts’ fundamental goal of creating critical thinkers was being challenged and was dying out. Although Dewey in many ways is better known today, both thinkers have had a very lasting impact on modern education in America.


Scholar of innovative education, Joy Kliewer wonderfully describes this era in Innovative Higher Education:

This was an era of turbulence, dissent, freedom, and experimentation. A time when the economy was soaring (it seemed anything was possible), enrollments were booming as the boomers (the baby boomers) went to college, the counterculture was in full swing, and there was a deep concern, consciousness raising about civil rights, equality, and the women's movement. Consider this as a revival of the progressive assault on the authoritarianism, bureaucracy, specialization, and departmentalization of higher education -- when Mario Savio called upon the masses to rise up against the “mechanized,” dehumanizing structures of the multiversity."
And so, countercultural gurus, educational reformers, and free thinkers united – they converged upon mountaintops, occupied board rooms for days at a time, and held retreats in the woods to begin a new network, a new creative family, of innovative colleges, communiversities, cluster colleges within colleges, and free universities, and communities. The movement was on!
Listen to the voice of Jane Lichtman who writes on the free universities - Jane went on the road in the 60s with her VW van and her dog to discover as many free universities as she could. Here is what Denver Free University had to say about itself in 1973:
“When the process of learning becomes fixed and rigid, when knowledge becomes more information and factual data, when the teacher becomes grade dispensing and the student a passive note-taker, when the important questions become those which will appear on the next test, when producing, creating and exploring are all regulated according to schedule and pre-determined structure, and when the goal of learning becomes a grade, credit or a degree, then education is no more than an empty ritual" Denver Free University (Lichtman, ’73, p. 1) These words ring true today. Education should be freeing.What happened to all of the experimental colleges from the 1960s and 1970s? In the 1970s, as the economy shifted, the counterculture ended, and enrollments declined - combined with academic labor market issues. The movement slowly faded and many of the beautiful experiments shut down or were transformed.


1Cynthia Stokes Brown, “Conditions for and Against Educational Experimentation,” Against the Current: Reform and Experimentation in Higher Education, p. 338-339
2 Cynthia Stokes-Brown, Lisle Crawford, Ralph Crowley, Michael Sapir, Alternative Education: Trends and Future Implications, Against the Current: Reform and Experimentation in Higher Education, ed. Richard Jones and Barbara Leigh Smith p. 327
described fully in Alexander Meiklejohn, The Experimental College, __
3 Stokes-Brown, et. al. p. 328
4 Alexander Meiklejohn, The Experimental College, (Harper,1932) p. 318
5 Richard Sperry, “Black Mountain: Meteor Among Mavericks” in Maverick Colleges: Ten Notable Experiments in Undergraduate Education, ed. L. Jackson Newell and Katherine Reynolds __
6 described fully in Martin Duberman, Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (Dutton, 1972)
7 Sperry


Karlin-Neumann, Patricia, and Kliewer, Joy. "Anniversaries and Memorials: What Can We and Today's Students Learn About Experimental Campuses of the Past and the Present as We Look Toward the Future." Sustaining Innovation. Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning. Sarasota, Fl. 10/22/2010. Keynote.

Kliewer, Joy Rosenzweig. The Innovative Campus: Nurturing the Distinctive Learning Envrionment, 1999, The Oryx Press.

Modern Innovative Undergraduate Programs:

Today innovative education is still running strong through the perseverance and determination of innovative faculty and students. Below, is a list of some of most innovative institutions still around.

Alverno College (A Catholic women’s college):

We set the bar high. And you’re challenged to raise it.
At Alverno, we use a highly personalized approach to learning that begins with small classes and uncommon access to top-quality faculty with a true passion for teaching. After choosing from a wide variety of majors and minors, you’ll soon participate in self-assessments to demonstrate progressive competency in eight core abilities – our foundations of learning.
We don’t just use standardized tests and traditional exams. Rather than measure performance as a snapshot in time – against a curve that strips away individual achievement – we focus on measurement that’s all about you.
Using a thorough assessment model, your work is critiqued from multiple perspectives, providing detailed feedback on progress, strengths and areas for development. You won’t just graduate with an exceptional education. You’ll also have the courage to challenge yourself for the rest of your life.

Bennington College:

Bennington’s academic structure requires that students take increasing responsibility for their own education, their own work, and their own lives. The self-direction of the planning process, the connection to the world through the winter internship term, and the ongoing attention of faculty advisors combine to provide students with internal sources of order that shape a Bennington education. Your imagination, your intellect, your discoveries are cultivated and increasingly govern your educational life at Bennington in place of the imposition of external templates designed by others. The Plan Process is the structure Bennington students use to design and evaluate their education. In a series of essays and meetings with the faculty throughout their years at Bennington, students learn to articulate what they want to study and how they intend to study it. They identify not only the classes they wish to take, but how those classes relate to each other and the rest of their Bennington experience: //Field Work Term//, tutorials, projects beyond the classroom, and anything else they undertake. Drop in at any meal at the dining halls and you'll notice a common refrain as students begin gathering their things to leave: "I'm going to do some work." They refer to their studies as "my work," just as any scientist, writer, or artist would—because this is what they are becoming. When you visit campus, ask the students you meet what they're working on and what their current fascinations are. These are the kind of things you can expect to find in a student's Plan. (__//

Berea College:

Berea College, founded by ardent abolitionists and radical reformers, continues today as an educational institution still firmly rooted in its historic purpose "to promote the cause of Christ." Adherence to the College's scriptural foundation, "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth," shapes the College's culture and programs so that students and staff alike can work toward both personal goals and a vision of a world shaped by Christian values, such as the power of love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice. This environment frees persons to be active learners, workers, and servers as members of the academic community and as citizens of the world. The Berea experience nurtures intellectual, physical, aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual potentials and with those the power to make meaningful commitments and translate them into action.
To achieve this purpose, Berea College commits itself
  • To provide an educational opportunity primarily for students from Appalachia, black and white, who have great promise and limited economic resources.
  • To provide an education of high quality with a liberal arts foundation and outlook.
  • To stimulate understanding of the Christian faith and its many expressions and to emphasize the Christian ethic and the motive of service to others.
  • To provide for all students through the labor program experiences for learning and serving in community, and to demonstrate that labor, mental and manual, has dignity as well as utility.
  • To assert the kinship of all people and to provide interracial education with a particular emphasis on understanding and equality among blacks and whites.
  • To create a democratic community dedicated to education and equality for women and men.
  • To maintain a residential campus and to encourage in all members of the community a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.
  • To serve the Appalachian region primarily through education but also by other appropriate services.

College of the Atlantic:

College of the Atlantic enriches the liberal arts tradition through a distinctive educational philosophy — human ecology. A human ecological perspective integrates knowledge from all academic disciplines and from personal experience to investigate — and ultimately improve — the relationships between human beings and our social and natural communities. The human ecological perspective guides all aspects of education, research, activism, and interactions among the college's students, faculty, staff, and trustees. The College of the Atlantic community encourages, prepares, and expects students to gain expertise, breadth, values, and practical experience necessary to achieve individual fulfillment and to help solve problems that challenge communities everywhere. (__//

Daemen College:

Daemen’s identity is clear. We insist on a healthy and strategic balance between a liberal arts foundation and solid career preparation. That means a future physician assistant will also know something about Shakespeare. Moreover, our competency-based core curriculum ensures that the well-rounded Daemen graduate has effectively mastered skills like critical thinking, creative problem solving, literacy in multi-media technology, affective judgment, moral and ethical discernment, and civic responsibility. Daemen also emphasizes practical experience through its many service-learning opportunities, internships, clinical and field experiences, collaborative research with faculty, and study abroad. (__//

Deep Springs College:

Deep Springs is an all-male liberal arts college located on a cattle-ranch and alfalfa farm in California's High Desert. Electrical pioneer L.L. Nunn founded the school in 1917 on the three pillars of academics, labor, and self-governance in order to help young men prepare themselves for lives of service to humanity. The school's 26 students, along with its staff and faculty, form a close community engaged in this intense project. Deep Springs operates on the belief that manual labor and political deliberation are integral parts of a comprehensive liberal arts education. Each student attends for two years and receives a full scholarship valued at over $50,000 per year. Afterwards, most complete their degrees at the world's most prestigious four year institutions. (

The Evergreen State College:

Since opening our doors in 1971, Evergreen has established a national //reputation// for leadership in developing innovative interdisciplinary, collaborative and team-taught //academic programs//. We have a vibrant undergraduate program, a graduate program, and //public service centers// that constitute a unique academic setting. The Evergreen State College is accredited by the //Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)//. Evergreen has been a leader in environmental education from the beginning. In recent years, we have stepped up our //commitment to sustainability// to reach beyond the classroom and even the campus. Evergreen values a student-centered learning environment, a link between theory and practice, and a multicultural community of //diverse faculty, students and staff// working together. Current enrollment is approximately 4,900. (

Fairhaven College at Western Washington University:

Fairhaven, begun in 1967 as an experimental college within Western Washington University, exists today as an undergraduate learning community defined by five attributes:
(1) Interdisciplinary study
(2) Student-designed studies and evaluation of learning
(3) Examination of issues arising from a diverse society
(4) Development of leadership and a sense of social responsibility
  1. Curricular, instructional and evaluative innovation

Global College of Long Island University:

Mission Statement
Global College's mission is the development of well-educated world citizens, men and women from a broad spectrum of nationalities and social classes who participate in an undergraduate liberal arts program that enables them
  • to combine first-hand experience of diverse cultural realities with the critical study of academic disciplines and human and ecological problems;
  • to test intellectual theories and skills against the demands of practice and service;
  • to carry out specialized field study under expert guidance that synthesizes cross-cultural understanding; and
  • to develop a broad world view and a level of achievement in a chosen field sufficient to prepare for a life of committed action in the interest of the world community.

Hampshire College:

Hampshire is Personalized
Students design their own programs of study instead of following predetermined academic pathways (no "off-the-shelf" majors here). __
//Hampshire’s divisional system// provides the breadth of a liberal arts education and the depth of individualized areas of concentration.
Hampshire is ActiveStudents learn to be producers and creators of knowledge, rather than passive consumers of information.
Hampshire students engage in substantial independent research and creative work as they explore the questions that most concern them (rather than simply responding to questions posed by teachers).
Hampshire Uses Narrative Evaluations Instead of Grades Because the purpose of evaluation is to give students meaningful, constructive feedback, faculty members provide extensive written feedback on papers and projects.
Detailed written evaluations reflect students' engagement and performance in courses, internships, field work, projects, study abroad, and other evaluated learning activities.
Our narrative evaluation system eliminates competition, enhancing Hampshire’s collaborative learning community.

Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands:

Aided by a founding grant from James Graham Johnston, in 1969 the University of Redlands established an experimental cluster college designed to combine high- quality education with minimal formality. The new institution attempted to free the educational process from the influences of departmentalism, numerical transcripts, traditional faculty status, and fixed graduation requirements.
As a result of administrative reorganization, in fall 1979 Johnston College became the Johnston Center for Individualized Learning within the College of Arts and Sciences, and in 1995 the name was changed to the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies. It continues to offer alternative modes of teaching and learning within a liberal arts context. Johnston draws its faculty from the entire University and invites the participation of all students. The program is organized on four principles: that self-direction is a motivating force in learning, that negotiation among those involved in teaching and learning optimizes student ownership of education, that written evaluations are a highly effective means of assessing student performance, and that education can be made more effective by integrating students’ living and learning environments. These ideals are made concrete in individual courses by contract; in the graduation contract/review process; and in the integrated administrative, classroom, and living space of the Johnston Complex (Bekins and Holt Halls), the home of Johnston Center.

Maharishi University of Management:

Maharishi University of Management was founded in 1971 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to fulfill the highest ideals of education. Foremost among these ideals is developing the full potential of consciousness in every student — to help students develop the ability to think and act in accord with the laws of nature and to live fulfilled and successful lives. This fulfills the long-sought goal of education: to produce fully developed individuals, citizens who can fulfill their own aspirations while promoting all good in society. We have pioneered a unique system of higher education, __//Consciousness-Based education//__, that systematically cultures students’ full creative intelligence, the basis of learning. Consciousness-Based education gives traditional academic study the foundation of complete knowledge of consciousness coupled with simple, natural, scientifically validated technologies for developing consciousness. These technologies are the __//Transcendental Meditation//__ and TM-Sidhi programs, including Yogic Flying. This integrated approach develops students’ ability to manage their lives successfully, to grow steadily in health, happiness, and wisdom, and to achieve professional success and personal fulfillment.
Our unique educational programs fulfill a commitment to four broad areas of responsibility:
  • Holistic development of students — cultivation of consciousness, mind, body, and behavior
  • Academic excellence — training at the forefront of knowledge in each discipline and in the ability to think critically and act effectively and ethically
  • Scholarship that expands the domains of knowledge, expressed in all four areas of scholarship — discovery, teaching and learning, integration, and application.
  • Improved quality of life for the individual, the community, the nation, and the world.

Marlboro College:

Marlboro College offers a student-centered approach to education that is structurally and culturally different from other colleges. Unfettered by generic course requirements, each student works with their faculty advisor to choose an individualized course of study. For graduation, seniors complete a self-designed Plan of Concentration that is reviewed by an outside evaluator who is an expert in the student's field. All this occurs within a campus community governed by students, faculty and staff in monthly Town Meetings. The philosophy of students taking responsibility for their education is rooted in the college's beginnings in the 1940s, when G.I.s returning from World War II insisted on playing a dynamic role in their academic community. Marlboro's mission "to teach students to think clearly and to learn independently" is best served when students experience a wide variety of ideas, opinions and cultural backgrounds. Such students are better prepared to acquire the skills and understanding they may need to succeed as citizens in the wider world. Marlboro seeks to sustain a community diverse in backgrounds, interests, ideas and cultural practices where members engage one another constructively toward that end. (//

New Century College at George Mason University:

New Century College is committed to integrating interdisciplinary knowledge with lifelong learning by offering experiential, hands-on learning that connects the classroom to the world. Our community encourages students to engage in active learning, independent inquiry, and research that respond to the needs and opportunities of a diverse society while preparing them for responsible leadership and citizenship.
NCC meets this challenge through:
  • Advancing integrative knowledge and understanding
  • Encouraging collaborative learning through teaching and research
  • Facilitating student-faculty engagement and mentoring in a small college environment
  • Providing opportunities for civic and community engagement and leadership

Naropa University:

Classical Greece and Classical India hosted two of the most revered traditions of education the world has known. One wonders what might have happened if these two historical giants of academia had been able to combine their wisdom, to see the world from each other's perspective, and finally arrive at a place where East and West truly met, exchanging valuable ideas and insights.
The fact is, this very phenomenon is unfolding today at Naropa University, a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian liberal arts institution dedicated to advancing contemplative education. This approach to learning integrates the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions, helping students know themselves more deeply and engage constructively with others. By combining these two storied pedagogies, East and West are indeed meeting every day at Naropa University and the resulting sparks of inspiration are flying. Naropa University comprises a four-year undergraduate college and graduate programs in the arts, education, environmental leadership, psychology and religious studies. It offers BA, BFA, MA, MFA and MDiv degrees, as well as professional development training and classes for the community.

New College of Alabama at the University of Alabama:

New College is the University of Alabama's commitment to providing personalized higher education for those students who need and desire that special attention. We are an interdisciplinary liberal arts program where students craft individualized courses of study consistent with their interests, aptitude, temperament, and skills. Each student, with the assistance of a faculty mentor, builds a course of study that includes traditional coursework, community-based learning, undergraduate research opportunities, and self-directed study. We believe our emphasis on student choice and responsibility promotes the creativity, flexibility and adaptability necessary for effective participation in the emergent communities of the future.

New College of Florida:

The mission of New College is to offer an undergraduate liberal arts education of the highest quality in the context of a small, residential public honors college with a distinctive academic program which develops the student's intellectual and personal potential as fully as possible; encourages the discovery of new knowledge and values while providing opportunities to acquire established knowledge and values; and fosters the individual's effective relationship with society.
Principles Guiding our Mission:
As a member of the State University System of Florida, New College of Florida, the four-year residential liberal arts honors college of the State of Florida, preserves its distinctive mission as a residential liberal arts honors college. To maintain this mission, New College of Florida has the following goals:
In particular, the College since its inception has subscribed to and attempted to foster the following principles:
  • Each student is responsible in the last analysis for his or her education.
  • The best education demands a joint search for learning by exciting instructors and able students.
  • Students' progress should be based on demonstrated competence and real mastery rather than on the accumulation of credits and grades.
  • Students should have from the outset opportunities to explore areas of deep interest to them.
The mission and goals of New College evolved out of intensive dialogue about higher education at the College's inception, involving administration, trustees and the charter faculty. Subsequently, the faculty developed a unique curriculum that enabled it to realize the four principles that appear above and to sustain the College's broad commitment to individualism, pluralism, flexibility, freedom and excellence.

The New School of Social Research:

The New School for Social Research provides an education grounded in history and informed by a legacy of critical thought and civic engagement. The school’s dedication to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry reaches back to the university’s founding in 1919 as a home for progressive thinkers and the creation of the University in Exile in 1933 for scholars persecuted in Nazi Europe. The interdisciplinary education offered by The New School for Social Research today explores and promotes global peace and justice as more than theoretical ideals. The New School for Social Research is a second home for students from a variety of geographical, cultural, economic, and political backgrounds. It enrolls more than 1,000 students from all regions of the United States and from more than 70 countries. Here, civic engagement begins in the classroom. Seminar-style classes facilitate mutual respect and intellectual rigor and take advantage of the school’s diversity and location in New York City.

New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study:

In Gallatin’s undergraduate program, you combine study in your chosen area of concentration with a liberal arts education focusing on significant texts and the history of ideas. Your course work will consist of classes offered within Gallatin as well as in the various schools of New York University. This solid foundation in the liberal arts tradition is augmented by elective components such as arts workshops, advanced writing courses, community learning courses and projects, internships, independent study, private lessons in the arts, and study abroad. The key to Gallatin’s educational approach is its faculty advisers. Your adviser ensures that your program has depth, breadth, and coherence and is consistent with your career and educational goals. Advisers also supervise and evaluate independent study and internship projects. (__//

Prescott College:

Prescott College is an independent, liberal arts college offering bachelor's, master's, Ph.D. degrees, as well as teacher certification. Our educational programs reflect the College's commitment to the environment and social justice. Prescott College offers three programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Students can live and study for an undergraduate degree in Prescott //(Resident Degree Program)//, complete their undergraduate degree through our degree completion program //(Adult Degree Program)//, earn their master's degree through our limited residency graduate program //(Master of Arts Program),// or pursue a //Ph.D. in Education//. Students can pursue a //Teaching Certificate// through any program. You will find what is right for you at Prescott. College. Our supportive and flexible environment empowers you to design your own education.
Students succeed at Prescott College for many reasons:
  • Learning is self-directed and self-designed for every student
  • Class size is extremely small and teaching is very personal with a high level of interaction between students and faculty
  • A Prescott College education emphasizes experiential learning ("learning-by-doing") and self-directed study
  • Prescott College is committed to the environment and ecological literacy, rather than passive classroom learning
  • Students can earn a bachelor's or master's degree from a distance
  • Faculty are highly qualified and committed to working with and supporting students

Pitzer College:

Pitzer College produces engaged socially responsible citizens of the world through an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary liberal arts education emphasizing social justice, intercultural understanding and environmental sensitivity. The meaningful participation of students, faculty and staff in college governance and academic program design is a Pitzer core value. Our community thrives within the mutually supportive framework of The Claremont Colleges, which provide an unsurpassed breadth of academic, athletic and social opportunities.

Pitzer Core Values
  • Academic Excellence
  • Social Responsibility
  • Diverse Community
  • Intercultural Understanding

Reed College:

Reed College was founded in 1908 in Portland, Oregon, as an independent, coeducational, nonsectarian college of the liberal arts and sciences. Reed provides one of the nation’s most intellectually rigorous undergraduate experiences, with a highly structured academic program balancing broad distribution requirements and in-depth study in a chosen academic discipline. Social life at Reed consists of a wide variety of on- and off-campus opportunities for diversion, including art, music, theatre, lectures, movies, and sports. The list of activities and organizations is long and constantly growing—with every activity open to all. (__//

The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey:

Stockton College is committed to building a community that values differences of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, national origin, socio-economic status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, age, ability or disability. We accept our responsibility to create and preserve an environment that is free from prejudice and discrimination. A diverse college environment is also necessary for students to gain a greater understanding of themselves. This process of self-discovery requires that students interact in a safe, respectful and affirming environment with people--faculty and staff as well as other students--who have different life experiences than their own. This interaction teaches that people are individuals who cannot be characterized by stereotypes and overgeneralizations. Engagement with diversity prepares students to become cooperative and productive contributors to our society. Stockton values diversity and the differing perspectives it brings. Accordingly, we are unequivocally committed to implementing the principles of //affirmative action// in the composition of our student body, faculty and staff. In Compliance with the New Jersey Law against Discrimination N.J.S.A 10:5-3 et seq. and the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 42 U.S.C. §1211 (8), it is the policy of Stockton College to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities and to provide reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals with a disability who are employees or applicants for employment. Every reasonable effort will be made to accommodate properly documented special needs. Recognizing and understanding the significance of our similarities and differences will ultimately foster appreciation for others and enrich the individual, the campus and the community at large.

St. John’s College:

St. John’s College is a co-educational, four year liberal arts college known for its distinctive "great books" curriculum.
St. John's is a single college located on two campuses, one in Annapolis, Maryland, and another in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The campuses share an identical curriculum (changes must be approved by both halves of the faculty) and a single governing board. Each campus is limited to well under 500 students, and the faculty-student ratio is 1 to 8. The all-required course of study is based on the reading, study, and discussion of the most important books of the Western tradition. There are no majors and no departments; all students follow the same program. Students study from the classics of literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, political science, economics, history, mathematics, laboratory sciences, and music. No textbooks are used. The books are read in roughly chronological order, beginning with ancient Greece and continuing to modern times. All classes are discussion-based. There are no class lectures; instead, the students meet together with faculty members (called tutors) to explore the books being read.

Warren Wilson College:

Mission Statement
The mission of Warren Wilson College is to provide a distinctive undergraduate and graduate liberal arts education. Our undergraduate education combines academics, work, and service in a learning community committed to environmental responsibility, cross-cultural understanding, and the common good.
Core Values
All proceedings, programs, and initiatives of the College are grounded in a commitment to the following core values:
  • The Triad: Academics, work, and service
  • Community: Civic engagement and participatory governance
  • Liberal Arts: Experiential and innovative education
  • Sustainability: Environmental responsibility, social and economic justice
  • Diversity: Inclusivity, international and cross-cultural understanding
  • Wellness: Personal growth and well-being Vision
Warren Wilson College will lead the nation toward a new model for liberal arts education through the innovation of its Triad educational program, the quality of its academic engagement, the fulfillment of its sustainability principles, the depth of its commitment to diversity, the vitality of its community, and its nurturing of individual well-being.

Further Resources:

The Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning (CIEL)

The Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning is a growing network of distinguished, progressive higher education institutions.
Faculty members share ideas among faculty in the network, broadening their resources for teaching, curriculum development, assessment, and research.
Students present their academic work in the online student journal and at annual symposia. Students also participate in exchanges at CIEL member campuses or in study abroad programs offered through the network.
CIEL also engages in outreach to the higher education community to share best practices in place among the CIEL institutions.
We share a common goal: to advance innovations in student learning.

Section for Students:
This page is for students to be able to write about their experiences, or anything they like, about innovative colleges.