The Riverwell Project
Is about redesigning education from the ground up
The problem is...
Education has become expensive.
Universities have increasingly outgrown themselves. They are more like resorts than schools: they feature more entertainment for students then learning spaces. Gyms. Pools. Lounges. Bars. Restaurant choices. Arenas. Sports teams. Tutoring centers. Counselors. Frats. Dedicated clinics. No wonder tuition is higher than any time in history, and has doubled in the last thirty years. Students pay more than their parents did. And most of that tuition is raised through student loans that plague these young adults for sometimes two decades after.
And it doesn't end there. Universities have invented new ways to attract new customers with the promise of cheap education. But this educational model may seem attractive, but it's rarely effective. Online classrooms. Distance learning. Dual credit. It has a lot of names, but increasingly psychologists and sociologists tell us that little learning and little communication happen here.
It hasn't been enough. Schools are facing bloated budgets and falling enrollment. So they begin firing faculty and relying on underpaid adjunct instructors, who face poverty and hardship in meager hopes of getting their dream jobs, which rarely materialize for them.
So here we are, stuck with rising tuition costs and failing education models. Universities fail students and faculty both. What happened to education?
So what do we do now?
That's what the Riverwell Project is all about. If we had a blank canvas, and could redesign the university from the ground up, what would it look like? We have a few ideas to start with...
A transformative, not transactional education
Most universities have exchanged the traditional model of education for a transactional one. They treat education like information, which can be bought and sold. This model tells us that textbooks, online classes, and computer programs can easily replace the work of professors. The student is always right, since he or she pays the school for a product.
But education is transformative. It is something modeled by a professor, who has dedicated his or her life to studying, observing, understanding, and teaching. This can't be replaced by a book or website. And that means that the heart of the university is the mentoring relationship between students and professor.
A cloistered, not separate campus
Most universities have encouraged spaces for student recreation. The idea has been that in the increasingly global market for education, the best strategy to attract new students is by better amenities. Bigger and comfier dorms. More food choices. Prettier campuses. On the other side, universities have sacrificed the needs of professors. Fewer, or shared offices. Smaller library budgets. Old and outdated classrooms.
This doesn't make much sense. The moment of education is the mission of the university, and this only happens with professors working with students. Riverwell is about creating cloistered spaces where students and instructors interact. Residences offered optionally to both faculty and students. Eating areas and lounges directed to both. Libraries where the two come together.
Community Directed, not isolated, purpose
Few deny there is a give-and-take between universities and the communities that support them: students come and bring commercial possibilities and workers. Universities rely on the support that food vendors and retailers provide their staff, faculty, and students.
But what if it could be more? Where universities directly engage the community? Where faculty bring their research to the people outside their classrooms? Where classes are not just directed to teenage students, but their parents, too? Where the ivory tower brings light to all around it, and not just to itself? What would that look like?
That's what we want to explore. Welcome to Riverwell. Welcome to a new idea of education.