A new path to higher education
For decades it has been understood that the reason for the high, ever-rising costs of college is that huge percentages of tuitions are not used to pay for instruction, but for research, administrative staff and buildings. I would be the first to say that the expensive, research-oriented universities which spend huge amounts on these things are essential for the country. The Harvards and Berkeleys, the Yales and Michigans, the Columbias and Virginias, the Chicagos, Wisconsins and Stanfords, and their scores of cousins, have meant a great deal to this country.But the country also needs a high-quality, inexpensive teaching-oriented alternative to the expensive research universities. The reasons range from giving people a chance to have hope and to develop themselves, to the need for an educated workforce, to the need for an informed electorate, to simple fairness. There are some impressive long-standing beginnings to an alternative, such as community college systems. Online education may be helpful, but the jury is still out.When a group of us who had come from working class or immigrant backgrounds started the Massachusetts School of Law in 1988, we were deeply aware of the need to offer inexpensive but rigorous legal education to people from backgrounds like ours. This would give the previously excluded an opportunity to become legal professionals, which they considered a leap up in the world. But the education had to be inexpensive, and it had to be rigorous, not only as a matter of our own academic standards, but also because our graduates, in New England, would have to compete with graduates of some of the finest law schools in the country.Having succeeded in providing rigorous but low-cost legal education, MSL will now apply its techniques to the last two years of undergraduate school, in the field of history, where the techniques fit very well.
MSL is starting The American College of History and Legal Studies, a school for the junior and senior years. ACHLS will open in Salem next August. All teaching will be done by the discussion method, through a melding of the discussion method as used at MSL and the Harkness Table discussion method used at Phillips Exeter Academy. Classes will be small — we are aiming for 15 people per class. There will be heavy emphasis on writing. Grading will be rigorous. By focusing on a single field — history — costs and tuition will be kept low: tuition is $10,000 per year, with half-tuition scholarships of $5,000 available to qualified students.Persons who do well and wish to go to law school after their junior year can do so, and will receive their BA after the first year of law school. Those who stay at ACHLS for the senior year will be able to go to law school, to other graduate schools, or to enter the workforce.It is our hope that, with ACHLS as an initial example, two-year “senior” colleges will spring up widely. Such colleges, devoted to teaching rather than research, and focusing on only one or two subject areas, can provide rigorous, inexpensive education without need of diverting huge sums for research, giant administrative staffs, and numerous expensive buildings.The combination of community colleges for the freshman and sophomore years and senior colleges for the junior and senior years, would provide a rigorous, inexpensive alternative to the expensive, four-year research universities where costs and tuitions have become prohibitive and which are becoming very difficult for ordinary people to afford.Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Mass., also serves as dean of the new American College of History and Legal Studies set to open in August in Salem, N.H.