Hampshire College to Transform Curriculum and Student Experience Around Contemporary Challenges

Three essential elements define this inventive approach:

  • Urgent. Students today are demanding and leading change, long before they arrive at college. Responding to students’ desires to create new knowledge that can meet the challenges of the 21st century, Hampshire is reorganizing itself around critical questions. As the pressing issues of our time evolve, so will our curriculum and structures, generating a continually innovating college. 
  • Unbounded. Successful innovators and changemakers easily cross the boundaries of specialization and expertise. Hampshire is removing all barriers across fields of study to create a truly transformative liberal arts college: no majors, no departments, no curricular divisions, liberating students to formulate questions that have never been asked before.
  • Entrepreneurial. Asking the best questions and pursuing innovative outcomes require the ability to identify a challenge, mobilize resources, integrate diverse perspectives, collaborate, and successfully propose a solution. Hampshire’s new curriculum will ensure that students can take a project from idea to investigation, concept, and completion.

“We challenged ourselves to deepen our mission to transform higher education by once again asking what sort of education contemporary students need,” said President Ed Wingenbach. “Redesigning Hampshire in this revolutionary way is a powerful, distinctive innovation that answers pressing challenges that no other college has committed itself to meet.”

The complex problems of the 21st century cannot be addressed within the traditional silos of academic departments and majors. From climate change to economic and social inequality, from artificial intelligence to strengthening the vitality of the arts, the challenges of today’s world are interconnected and require multiple perspectives, methods of inquiry, and an entrepreneurial mindset beyond what a traditional liberal arts education can provide.

“Hampshire College has done what everyone says cannot be done: it has taken seriously the challenges students face today and remade itself to prepare students to face those challenges,” said Dr. Cathy Davidson, Founding Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of The New Education: How To Revolutionize the University To Prepare Students for a World in Flux. “As someone who watches educational change, I can say definitively that this is the most profound, extensive, and exciting transformation I have seen anywhere. Most of higher education prepares students for the challenges of higher education. What is astonishing about Hampshire’s new vision is that, in every way, it is designed to prepare each and every student, in any field and with any ambition, for the challenges both in school and beyond.”

Hampshire’s new model—built on the College’s legacy of rejecting passive lectures and exams, restrictive departments, and prescribed majors—will invite students to ask big questions and draw on approaches from any field in order to find answers. Students will have the freedom to design their own academic program with the guidance of faculty and staff, a hallmark of the Hampshire experience. The most successful artists, entrepreneurs, researchers, and activists know that the greatest solution to any complex problem comes from an ability to look beyond assumptions, identify interdependencies, and create disruption. It is this synthesis in Hampshire’s new model that expresses the best ideals and practical relevance of a liberal arts education.

The new framework was developed with input from hundreds of Hampshire community members coordinated by members of a campus Academic Innovation Planning Group, who reviewed institutional research from recent years and hosted five weeks of open campus meetings this fall.

Hampshire’s Board of Trustees voted to endorse the new direction on Saturday, October 12, after the faculty voted last Thursday, October 10, to build the new curriculum and to collaborate with the College’s staff on its development and implementation. The new model will be built this academic year and implemented for its incoming class of Fall 2020, as the College celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Hampshire College was founded by its partners in the Five College Consortium as a major departure from traditional colleges, empowering students to design their own program, learn to perform serious independent work, and explore and innovate freely across disciplines. The offerings of its partner colleges will be essential for Hampshire to realize its vision; the consortium enables students of its partner institutions free, open access to a breadth of resources, including shared courses, libraries, symposia, certificate programs, clubs, events, transportation, and more.

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