Progressive higher education

This list of offers some models for those interested in progressive higher education.  The examples manifest progressive aims, such as social justice, as well as progressive means, such as student-directed learning, It’s inspired by some recent work in Nepal on progressive education.

Progressive initiatives at King’s College, Kathmandu

King’s College in Kathmandu, Nepal, seeks to become a model progressive higher ed (tertiary) institution, not only as a business college, but as a full university.

King’s College believes that learning is about understanding real life problems and finding innovative solutions. They promote entrepreneurship through progressive education. They show this in various ways, including community-based learning, sponsorship of the Progressive Educators Network of Nepal, and the Yunus Centre, focusing on poverty alleviation and sustainable entrepreneurship). Their guiding theme has been “the community is the curriculum.”

The socioeconomic and cultural gap between private US colleges and Nepal is vast. No one should expect a simple transference of US examples to a college such as King’s. Thus, the specific realizations may be quite different, even if the principles are universal. I hope that the list below may be helpful for the King’s College effort.

Progressive higher education in the US

My guess is that a high percentage of colleges would claim that they have some “progressive” programs, courses, or aspects of their curricula. The selection below is thus somewhat arbitrary. reflecting my own experiences and contacts.

Many of the examples here appear also on the the Colleges That Change Lives list. That list highlights colleges that aim for a personalized and transformative collegiate experience through a student-centered mission.

Mixed picture

The colleges included here aren’t necessarily the best, or only, examples, but ones that highlight important dimensions usually considered progressive. In most cases, a college on the list will have some progressive aspects and some not so progressive.

For example, I included community colleges with CCCC as an example, because they typically serve all ages from small children to the very senior, integrate work and academics, and support community learning in many forms beyond the classroom. These attributes are important to recognize. On the other hand they may not include progressive methods in the classroom or collaboration in decision making.

Similarly, many small liberal arts colleges offer innovative learning experiences and strive for diversity and community engagement. There are many examples of students who develop in terms of social engagement as well as academically. But the colleges are often located far from urban centers and separated both culturally and geographically from the majority of citizens in the country. Their connection with the problems of ordinary life is thus often less urgent and more hypothetical.

The list

I’d welcome any corrections or additions, especially those that might implications for education in Nepal. We could include also Bennington, Bard, GoddardSarah Lawrence, Colorado, Reed, and several others.

  • Black Mountain College–interdisciplinary approach, prioritizing art; non-hierarchy of students and educators; students participated in farm work, construction projects, and kitchen duty (closed in 1957)
  • Cape Cod Community College–exemplary of most community colleges, CCCC manifests progressive ideals through an open learning approach and connections among learning, work, and community; teaches people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds, and all ages from children to seniors; plays a critical role in community-building and local cultural events;  commitment to environmental sustainability
  • City University of New York–founded to “educate the whole people”; open access to all and still tuition free for nearly half of the students; first to offer free education to women; welcoming to immigrants
  • Prescott College–experiential learning and self-direction within an interdisciplinary curriculum; activism in environmental, political, and social issues
  • College of the Atlantic–everyone studies human ecology, the investigation of the relations between humans and environment; only one undergraduate degree; but each student designs their own major
  • New College (Florida)–early involvement in research, community engagement
  • Marlboro College–from its founding in 1946, students were active contributors to academic and community life, literally building the campus; World Studies ProgramOutdoor Program
  • Warren Wilson College–grounded in social responsibility; hard work and community; students grow their our own food, till & harvest the farm, gardens, and forests using sustainable agricultural practices
  • Evergreen State College–emphasizes collaborative, interdisciplinary learning; supports and benefits from local and global commitment to social justice, diversity, environmental stewardship and service in the public interest; e.g., Tacoma Program, designed to serve adult learners with deep, transformational learning
  • Antioch University–one of the first American colleges to enroll African-American students, to employ female faculty at the same rank and salary as males, to admit international students; focus on fostering social, economic and environmental justice
  • Green Mountain College–close town-gown relationship; the capstone course, A Delicate Balance, culminates in a project that combines a student’s academic area of focus with civic engagement; the Progressive Program lets students develop their own program of study [recently closed]
  • Oberlin College–the first college to accept women as well as men, and black students as well as white; prominent in the abolition movement
  • Pitzer–students create their own majors; collaborate with community members on local projects and critically examine social and environmental policies
  • Northeastern University–co-op program began over 100 years ago; students alternate classroom studies with full-time work in career-related jobs for six months
  • Earlham College–education as a process of awakening the “teacher within,” so that students become lifelong learners; stresses global education, peaceful resolution of conflict, equality of persons, and high moral standards
  • Berea College–first interracial and coeducational college in the South; unique work program, allowing students to graduate with little or no student loan debt