Hampshire College works on new education model

  • Hampshire College, Amherst

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2019 11:35:30 PM

AMHERST — Hampshire College has developed three potential plans for reinventing its education model as the college seeks to restore a stable student enrollment.

The three models currently outlined are focused on project-based learning; addressing “big challenges” facing the future; and a student co-designed curriculum. All three models “represent Hampshire’s final break with language of traditional majors and academic disciplines,” according to an outline posted on the college’s website.

The proposals are largely the result of community-wide meetings Hampshire’s president and Academic Innovation Planning Group have held throughout the fall as the college charts its path forward following a tumultuous year.

Facing financial troubles, school leaders announced in January that they were seeking a merger, and soon after the board of trustees voted not to accept a full fall 2019 class. Layoffs followed, and after significant backlash the previous president and nine trustees resigned in April as the board decided to maintain Hampshire’s independence through fundraising.

After admitting only 13 students this year, Hampshire — which relies on tuition for close to 90 percent of its revenue — is now attempting to recover from the year’s turmoil. The re-imagining of the college’s educational model is a big part of that.

In early November, Hampshire’s leadership will present that model and other evidence to New England’s regional accreditation body for higher education, which in June warned the college that it was in danger of being put on probation or losing its accreditation if conditions continued or worsened.

College President Ed Wingenbach said Tuesday it is “essential that we come out of the next two weeks with a model for Hampshire’s future that is innovative, and that is exciting” for students, alumni and others invested in Hampshire.

“We have to re-establish our stable enrollment,” Wingenbach said, which would be 1,000-plus students. “And one of the ways to do that is to show students that not only are you doing something that’s unique, but you’re doing something unique in a way that is relevant, and a way that is compelling.”

The first model proposes centering curriculum around projects and collaboration, with students continuing to embark on an intensive, independent study project during their final year. They would also have an added option of working on a collaborative project.

The second model proposes a set of about four to six “big challenges” over the course of four to five years, with students choosing to “work intensively on one of the challenges of their choice during their first year,” according to the outline. Students may continue to center their Div. II and III work around this challenge, or pursue a different topic. The challenges will be “re-evaluated every few years” to determine if they should remain a focus.

The third model proposes that “students will become active co-creators of the entire educational experience ... by identifying topics, ideas, and interests, and working with faculty, staff, alumni, community partners, and other students to explore them.” Students, staff and alumni would gather every two years to come up with ideas for curricula.

Hampshire would continue to offer “some standard courses” in order to “provide support for particularly popular areas of study and to provide options for Five College students to take courses at Hampshire,” the outline reads.

Wingenbach said there is “nothing broken about Hampshire College,” including its academic model, and core elements such as student-directed learning and students’ final year projects will remain in place.

In addition to showing students that Hampshire will provide them with unique opportunities, Wingenbach said that the college’s plan must demonstrate a worthwhile investment to potential donors.

“You can’t raise money from people by saying, ‘We’re not doing anything different than we’ve always done, we just need help,’” Wingenbach said. “That doesn’t excite anybody.”

The models are evolving, Wingenbach said, describing ongoing conversation regarding Hampshire’s future as a “consensus-based idea generating process.”

Following discussions earlier in the week, the board of trustees will hold a meeting on Friday open to all members of the Hampshire community, including parents and friends, which will be followed by a faculty vote to endorse at least one of the models. The board of trustees will then vote to adopt a model on Oct. 11.

Staff writer Dusty Christensen contributed to this story.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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