Here’s one of the best ideas ever: instead of getting accepted to college for four straight years, you get six years of school you can use anytime during your lifetime. This is the basic idea behind Open Loop University, which is a concept that has bubbled up at Stanford University.
Over roughly the past year, the Dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, Jim Plummer, funded The @Stanford Project, in which students worked to envision the future of on-campus learning. Open Loop is one of these concepts, and it is described in a highly creative “historical” web site set in the year 2100; the site looks “back” on the adoption in 2016 of the Open Loop concept.
The possibilities of this concept are endless. You might attend college for one year, work for three, and then come back for two. At that point, most students would be 24 or 25, and they still would have three more years to attend Stanford over the course of their lives.
You might then choose to come back at ten-year intervals; if you built this into your life plan, you could structure your career and savings plans accordingly.
There are two major problems with the way on-campus colleges are currently structured:
1.) College is wasted on the young, who have been going to school non-stop their entire lives and who have very little – if any – work experience. They are studying for the real world without any firsthand experience in that world.
2.) For most adults, higher education disappears in their 20’s and never returns. If you’re lucky, it’s replaced by a far paler cousin: job training. Listening to some speaker drone on for two days of training is nothing like taking a full year to recognize that you are a far different person at, say, 35, than you were at 22.
Mitchell L. Stevens, in an opinion piece for the New York Times, wrote this about the traditional approach to college:
If we were starting from zero, we probably wouldn’t design colleges as age-segregated playgrounds in which teenagers and very young adults are given free rein to spend their time more or less as they choose. Yet this is the reality.
I agree. College is a hopelessly outdated, brutally expensive process that no longer serves the interest of society or of most students. Do many students have a great experience at college? Yes. But there is massive room for improvement. If anything needs to be “disrupted”, it is college.
Here are six benefits taken verbatim from the Stanford Open Loop site. Bear in mind that these are written in a fictionalized future in which this new educational approach is a reality. Open Loop University:
- De-stigmatized a range of legitimate patterns of learning (gap years, etc.) so that early-career students used their time and investment in on-campus learning wisely and for greater impact
- Provided a way for older adults to pivot careers with an academic grounding, and to reconnect with a meaningful and energizing social context later in life
- Revitalized Stanford with a broader mix of students by creating on-ramps at many ages; enabled populations traditionally underrepresented at elite institutions to gain greater access once they had time to overcome disadvantaged circumstances
- Developed new operational infrastructure for the University with the ability to handle a more dynamic and shifting on-campus population
- Developed a distributed engagement model to maintain the broader network of Stanford populi
- Capitalized on the remarkable accomplishments of its populi through the invitation to return to campus as expert practitioners.
What do you think? Does it make more sense to view college as a lifelong endeavor, rather than something you cram in before starting your actual career? Do you have an even better idea?