Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Founders passes first regulatory hurdle

With all the excitement, speculation (and indeed outright criticism) over Founders College, the college has passed a significant milestone in its launch. Today it announced that has received degree-granting authority from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, a regulatory hurdle that also allows the school to begin to recruit students. Additionally, Founders outlined what portents to be its selling proposition.

[Dr. Gary Hull], Director of the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace at Duke University, said Founders will redefine and revitalize liberal arts education. "What makes the College unique is its focus on an integrated education centered around important ideas in history, literature and the arts, economics, and philosophy. In addition to liberal arts, Founders will start by offering degrees in business and education."

"Each student will graduate with an important body of knowledge, a capacity to think independently and make logical judgments, and the ability to write and speak clearly and eloquently. Our education gives students the ability to understand better themselves and the world around them."

Student Scholastic Aptitude (SAT) and Advanced Placement (AP) test scores will not be considered for admission. Instead, Founders evaluates applications by reference to a student's context of knowledge, thinking and writing skills, essay, maturity level, and motivation.

Faculty at Founders College will be required to pass a rigorous, proprietary teacher-training program, and to participate in on-going teacher training. Tenure will not be offered.

"We prize effective teaching methods and great teachers." Hull said. "Instructors will focus on inspiring and fostering the intellect of students, as well as providing the finest education in essential liberal arts subjects."

Tamara Fuller, the College's Chief Strategy Officer, said Founders is on track to open in the fall of 2007, once it receives the necessary approvals for use of the 1,100-acre estate nestled in the foothills of Central Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

"We have three ingredients for success," Fuller said. "There's clearly strong interest in a classical and disciplined liberal arts college that takes seriously the idea that parents and students are its customers. Second, the demographics of the next decade will generate a significant boom of college-age students. And third, the College is positioned to offer a rich campus experience in a state known for great colleges and universities."

The College will sit at the core of a long-term vision to establish a lifelong learning center at the Lynch Station site, including a retirement community, a luxury conference center, fine dining and other amenities.
While the above blurb is unlikely to sway Founders' critics, there is no doubt that the project continues to move forward. It has contracted on property, it has hinted at what will be its vision for integration in learning, and it contemplates becoming a renaissance center for life-long learning. I still need to see the specifics, but I continue to remain hopeful that the Founders team can pull it off.