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President's Letter on Proposed Student Experience Models

Hampshire College Community,

It’s been five weeks since the Launch of our community work to define a bold vision for the future of our student experience and reestablish Hampshire as the leading innovator in higher education. Hundreds in our community have contributed to this work, on and off campus. I’m excited to report we are on schedule this month to announce our new vision and model, which we’ll develop throughout this academic year and debut for our fall 2020 entering class, fifty years from the College’s opening.

I have full confidence in this work and in our future. Our community has stepped up with historic levels of support for Hampshire this year as we begin to rebuild to full enrollment. Just as important, our community has committed to developing a new vision for our student experience matched by a manageable, sustainable, long-term financial plan. This is the only way forward. A successful new vision and plan are essential as we work to attract more students, improve our perceived value, and motivate potential donors.

I deeply appreciate our community process this semester, it’s been a fun introduction for me in my new role. Our academic innovation planning is a wonderful example of what makes Hampshire work: people leaping to the challenge of an open-ended problem, inviting the widest range of voices and most creative ideas, and advancing possible solutions, all with the confidence that we’ll succeed. I’ve seen how Hampshire lives its values, aligning our mission to action at a level that you don’t see at most institutions. I am proud of what we’re accomplishing and I hope you are too.

Our Academic Innovation Planning Group spent hours and hours every week gathering feedback from hundreds of constituents and weaving it into something coherent and representative of our best ideas. This highly inclusive process resulted in two distinct models that I first shared with our community last week. As we discussed those models in open meetings, it became clear there was strong interest in considering a third hybrid model that employs aspects of both. The Academic Innovation Planning Group is currently working to frame this model, and you can read about their progress here.

Last week, the Board of Trustees joined open meetings and engaged in working groups with more than 200 community members: faculty, staff, students, parents, and alums, including College leaders and Academic Innovation Planning Group members. This intensive consideration by the trustees included discussions in executive session into Saturday.

Our trustees announced today they will support the adoption of either model, or a hybrid emerging from both, as long as the model proposed includes certain essential elements. As required by NECHE, the College places primary responsibility for the curriculum with our faculty; since any new vision will include changes to the curriculum, the faculty must determine which models they are willing to endorse. Our Board must vote on the final vision as well; we plan to complete both steps this week.

Whatever vision is selected, Hampshire commits to retaining what’s most distinctive about our program: our student-guided education; our program of faculty co-learning with students; rigorous Division III capstone projects; narrative evaluations; and our core values including justice, equity, ethical citizenship, and community engagement.

Our future student experience will also feature some new or expanded elements including:

  • Group advising
  • Peer mentoring
  • Collaborative learning
  • Large-scale community engagement opportunities
  • Initiatives to advance our mission regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility
  • Integration between campus life and the academic program
  • Campus-wide Division I and Division II symposia of student projects

Once a final model is ratified, we’ll need to build it with the same inclusion, openness, creativity, and boldness we've used to get to this point. We will appeal to donors to invest in our vision, and excite prospective students about the opportunities for them here that we know are unmatched by any other college.

Fifty years ago we were admitting our first students and finalizing a radical curriculum, designed with input from hundreds of educators: to lead a major departure from traditional education, rejecting passive lectures, exams, academic majors, and departments, and empowering students to learn through active inquiry.

Today we continue to live the promise of our founders, who defined Hampshire’s constant intellectual goal: enlarging the capability of each student to conduct their own education. Other colleges reserve this goal for only select students as they near graduation; at Hampshire, we will always ensure every student is a partner in their own education, beginning in their first semester. We’ll guarantee this is certain with our new vision and future students as well.

Ed Wingenbach


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