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Sculpture by Crystal Schenk
and Shelby Davis
Photo by John Urang

Below you will find the original vision for Alder College. At this time, we do not have plans to open a stand-alone college.

Alder is a new kind of college built on relationships, bringing the best of the liberal arts to a richly inclusive student body in the heart of Portland.

The health of our communities depends on dynamic thinkers who can approach complex systems with curiosity, creativity and nuance. In order to create a more equitable and inclusive future, we will also need leaders drawn from a wide range of backgrounds. Alder will be a two year liberal arts college for students who will become these thought leaders.



Alder will focus on the crucial first two years of college, offering a rigorous yet supportive academic environment, where full-time faculty teach a richly inclusive and deeply diverse student body recruited from the talent we know is right here in Oregon.



Recruitment will be local (Portland metro area), and focus on building relationships with high school staff and teachers to identify students who would benefit most from an Alder education.

Keeping it Local


Through strong connections with local (Portland metro area) organizations and high schools, Alder College will work with teachers and mentors to identify students interested in a liberal arts education who would benefit from Alder’s rigorous yet supportive academic environment.

This recruitment strategy is markedly different from those used by many traditional liberal arts schools that seek to maximize the number of applicants through marketing nationally and internationally. Alder’s goal is to tap into the talent we know is right here in Oregon and find students who will thrive in a liberal arts classroom.

The challenge is not simply to have students enroll in college, but rather to help them find the college that is the right fit for them. Many students do not know which factors might lead to their success in a given program and so they decide based on criteria such as perceived cost or where family or friends attended. By working with a team of mentors and educators in Portland who know Alder’s program, we are distributing our recruitment into the communities where students make decisions about where to go to college. Many students we meet who “ended up” at a liberal arts college, found themselves there because a trusted mentor, teacher or coach pulled them aside (or in some cases put them on a bus) and said, “this would be a great school for you.”



Students take courses with the same cohort throughout their two years, giving them the time to develop relationships with peers and professors and create a vibrant, tight-knit intellectual community.

Student Cohorts


Students will enter their first year with a cohort of thirty students. Over the course of their two years at Alder, they will take most classes with this cohort, allowing them to build trust and a common language, both of which are essential for discussing many issues where disagreement is an indispensable part of learning. A great deal of research has also found that cohorts can be a powerful catalyst for intellectual engagement and academic success.

The main qualities we are looking for in prospective Alder students are interest, curiosity and a willingness to wrestle with the cognitive dissonance that arises from asking complex questions. When Alder students come to class, they can expect to have a spirited, substantive discussion with classmates who are prepared, engaged, and passionate about ideas. This level of intellectual engagement is possible when students hold one another to high standards in an encouraging and supportive environment. Alder’s cohort model will provide the space and time to foster just such an environment.

Because Alder is a non-residential program, cohorts will be especially important for integrating students into the college community.


In traditional models, professors and students are constantly starting over with each new course. Discussions about difficult issues such as politics, religion, race, gender, or class, require trust that is hard to build in just a few weeks. To have a truly inclusive and diverse student body means being explicit about how our different backgrounds affect our experiences in the classroom.

Alder students and faculty will be learning together over many months and years, building an intellectual community based on respect and trust, where ideas can be debated and people can disagree in a civil manner. A major goal of Alder is to help students develop the interpersonal skills to negotiate real disagreement and work with people who may have different ideas, beliefs and opinions.



Students spend two years with a core group of faculty who are engaged in collaborative pedagogy.

Faculty Teams


At Alder College, faculty will develop curriculum and assignments collaboratively and focus on addressing academic bottlenecks: places in the curriculum “where students consistently fail to master crucial ideas or actions” (Indiana U, History Learning Project). Because Alder professors have students for many classes over two years, they can work with students to identify skills gaps and build mastery across classes and quarters. Faculty will meet weekly to discuss the progress of individual students, as well as share teaching challenges or other issues that have arisen in classes. A colleague might notice that some students are not talking in class and ask if these same students are active in other classes. If so, how might she get these students more involved? She may ask a colleague to observe a class with this issue in mind and provide feedback and suggestions. Or is this a larger issue and if so, how should the faculty team approach the issue together? In traditional settings, students and faculty often “wait out” bad classroom dynamics since the same group will not be together after the end of the term. At Alder, students and faculty are together for two years, making group dynamics one of the most important issues professors and students need to address and revisit as necessary. This attention to group cohesion and communication will build leadership skills and help students thrive in diverse, dynamic communities and workplaces.


Receiving frequent, targeted feedback has been shown to enhance the quality of student learning. One of the key advantages of faculty teams is the ability to develop and implement a common language of evaluation and constructive criticism across classes. Rather than being surprised or confused by the expectations of an individual professor, students will be held to common standards, articulated in similar ways, throughout the curriculum. All faculty, for instance, will be trained in the school’s writing program so that feedback is consistent between professors, allowing students to build on their skills no matter who is reading their paper. Students will also provide frequent feedback to one another and discuss how to provide and receive constructive criticism.


Studies have shown that student success is linked to faculty interaction and mentoring. When Alder students transfer to other colleges and universities, they will have had two years to develop relationships with faculty whom they trust, and who have held them to high standards. Research has demonstrated that students are more likely to graduate when they are in environments that set high and clear expectations. After two years at Alder, students will have developed the confidence to work closely with faculty at their new institutions, which is especially important for recommendations for graduate schools, internships, and scholarly collaborations.


Professors will be hired for their scholarship and their commitment to teaching a diverse student body. Alder professors will be engaged in ongoing professional development around issues of teaching, including scaffolding assignments, integrating curriculum, giving and receiving feedback, increasing classroom participation, conflict mediation, and identifying learning “bottlenecks.” Faculty will observe one another’s classes and meet regularly to discuss teaching methods.


Faculty will design professional development plans yearly, which will include time for teaching, new course development, research, and service. Faculty will be expected to engage in scholarly research and contribute to intellectual communities, as we see an important link between independent research and the intellectual rigor professors bring to the classroom.



Based on the success of learning communities, the two-year curriculum is integrated to encourage coherent cross-subject learning. Faculty collaboratively develop syllabi and scaffold assignments to build skills across disciplines and quarters.

Integrated Curriculum


At most colleges, students choose from courses developed by different departments and faculty in isolation. With each new class, professors must quickly assess students’ skills and address any issues before the end of term. When classes are large, individual assessment is difficult. Expectations vary from class to class and many students receive little feedback until the final grade. They then choose new courses and repeat this process for the next few years. Many first and second year courses are taught by adjuncts and graduate students who, while they may be good teachers, are paid very little, often hired right before classes begin, and are not involved in departmental discussions about student progress or curricular needs.

For well prepared students with strong academic supports, this system may at times be annoying or inefficient; however, for many other students, it could mean never fully developing the analytical, writing and communication skills they need to do college level work, especially as they move into their majors.

Alder College seeks to change this situation and is designed from the ground up to take advantage of research that has identified key institutional factors for increased learning and student success.


Curriculum is at the heart of our mission to provide a diverse group of students with a rigorous and academically challenging experience. The design of the curriculum is guided by recent research on student success and retention, including work on individuals who are first-generation college students, students of color, and students from low-income areas. Our curriculum asks a great deal of students in terms of time commitment and willingness to be challenged, but it is designed to remove as many barriers to learning as possible. Fundamentally, Alder’s curriculum and teaching practices are designed to benefit any student seeking deep intellectual engagement.

Alder will cultivate habits of mind that will help students be successful in other college environments, as well as in their work and personal lives. Emphasis is placed on written and oral communication skills, and on negotiating cognitive dissonance. We assume that the world is complex and so are its problems. Learning to negotiate competing ideas is an essential skill that the liberal arts and sciences can teach.

Alder has the opportunity to put into practice a number of research-based teaching strategies that would be very difficult to implement at many existing institutions. These practices depend on collaborative pedagogy and include:

• Integrated Curriculum: Faculty collaboratively design classes so that material and skills cut across classes and quarters, allowing students to cultivate cognitive habits and increase retention. Studies have shownthat learning is accelerated when new ideas are introduced in relation to known information. Because students take classes with their cohorts, conversations can continue from one class to another and across quarters.

Example 1: In their history class, students might be investigating the development of U.S. cities in the nineteenth century in light of technologies such as the railroad and the telegraph. In their physics course, the professor would know students were studying these themes and might have students conduct experiments that teach the underlying principles of steam locomotion. Meanwhile, in their humanities class, students might look at literature from the time, exploring themes related to technology, Western expansion and representations of Native Americans.

Example 2: Faculty might choose a film, such as The Act of Killing, a documentary about Indonesian mass killings during the 1960s, as a center point to explore questions across disciplines. While students may be examining the Cold War in their history class, they may look at documentary as a genre and the relationship between activism and aesthetics in filmmaking in a culture and media course. At the same time, they may be studying the role of force in the formation of nation states in their political science class and compare Indonesia with other countries such as Mexico and the US.

• Scaffolding Assignments: Research has shown that most students benefit when professors scaffold assignments, meaning that longer assignment are broken down into their component parts so that students can master the many skills required to complete more complex work. For instance, instead of assigning a research paper, each week students work on an assignment that builds a skill required to write the final paper, such as identifying credible evidence, incorporating quotations, evaluating and presenting statistics, and developing a thesis. Alder professors will coordinate assignments so that students are working on similar communication skills in different disciplines. Faculty will also know students well enough to adjust assignments so that students master skills before moving on.

• Frequent, Targeted Feedback: Research has shown that frequent, targeted feedback increases learning. Often students will receive a paper back with red marks all over it, some correcting grammar, others asking questions about evidence, and still others commenting on how they could improve a thesis statement. By contrast, targeted feedback focuses on one or two issues, giving students a specific issue to work on for the next assignment. Because they are receiving frequent feedback from professors they know, students will see learning as a process, not an end result, moving them to become more independent learners.

• High expectations: Research shows that students who are held to high standards, which are clear and consistent, tend to stay in school and learn more. Alder students and professors will have high expectations of each other, sharing the responsibility of creating a vibrant and respectful intellectual environment. If students choose to be employed while attending Alder, they will be asked to work no more than 10 hours per week during the quarter, as research shows that more than 10 hours leads to lower academic achievement and higher drop out rates. Alder students should expect to be in class 16 hours per week, with at least 2 hours of outside reading and assignments for each hour of class (this is the meaning of a “credit” hour), for a total of at least 48 hours of school work per week.

• Faculty Mentors: Faculty work together to align curriculum and scaffold assignments. Each cohort of students will learn together with a core group of faculty, allowing mentoring to occur across disciplines and quarters. Research has shown cohorts and faculty interaction are two of the best ways to increase student retention in the first two years.



Learning increases when students interact with classmates from different backgrounds. Society benefits when a more diverse group of students pursues liberal arts education. Alder College will prioritize admitting and retaining a diverse student body through its recruitment practices.

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion


The social, political, and scientific problems we face today require systemic thinkers with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. Alder will prioritize admitting and retaining a diverse student body by using best practices from the latest research.

Recent studies have shed light on the cognitive benefits of racial and ethnic diversity in the classroom, which has been found to be “beneficial not only for providing variety in perspectives and skills, but also because diversity facilitates friction that enhances deliberation and upends conformity.”

A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times summarized such findings, reminding us that “ethnic diversity is like fresh air: It benefits everybody who experiences it. By disrupting conformity it produces a public good. To step back from the goal of diverse classrooms would deprive all students, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, of the opportunity to benefit from the improved cognitive performance that diversity promotes.”

Alder is building a college guided by the values of equity, diversity and inclusion and will integrate the needs of students from diverse backgrounds in all that we do. In other words, these values will not be an afterthought, but rather fundamental to Alder’s very structure.

• Recruitment will be local (metro area) and focus on building relationships with public and private high school staff and teachers. With the help of these dynamic institutional relationships, Alder will put together cohorts that reflect the rich diversity of our community.

• Lower tuition ($20,000/year compared to $47,000 base tuition) and prioritization of scholarships for lower and middle income students.

• Students find their own housing, which can include living with family or friends. While this option can save students money, it is also important for students who have other obligations or interests that make campus living difficult or undesirable.

• Cohort model allows for students to get to know peers and professors over a number of years, creating an intellectual community that is often lacking in non-residential settings or at large universities. Peer support has been linked to higher success rates for most students, but especially for individuals who are first generation college students or from low income areas, and students from historically underrepresented groups.

• Syllabi, curriculum, and assignments are coordinated by faculty and reflect a shared set of practices and standards. Such coordination has been shown to be particularly effective for retaining a diverse group of students.


Because inclusivity will not just be desirable, but rather fundamental to Alder’s character, we will prioritize diversity in assembling the faculty and staff team.

To attract the right people will require thoughtful, nimble, and relational recruitment. Above all, it will mean building a market-competitive academic workplace with progressive labor practices at all levels, designed from the ground up to recruit and retain the most talented and engaged educators and academic professionals in the region and beyond.



Whether students decide their next step means attending a four-year college or university, entering the workforce, or pursuing an alternative program of study, Alder College will provide them with the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions.

After Alder


Throughout their first year at Alder, students will visit local colleges and universities, and faculty and students from schools will be invited to Alder to give talks and answer questions. Students will also have ample opportunities to interact with members of the local business and professional communities through research projects, informational interviewing, shadowing, and other activities designed to introduce students to a range of careers. Our goal is to provide students with the skills, confidence and networks so they can make informed decisions about their next steps.

During their second year, Alder students will take a course in which they develop a plan for life after Alder. Some will apply to four-year institutions or other programs, while others will begin networking and polishing their resumes so they are ready to enter the workforce. Whatever path a student chooses, they will be supported by faculty, our College Liaison and Transition Coordinator, and by Alder’s deep network of community partners who are eager to help students choose a career path that is right for them.


Many Alder students will continue on to purse a bachelor’s degree. Alder professors and staff will assist students in finding the right program based on majors, intellectual community, location, social environment, and financial considerations. Over the first year, faculty will have ample time to learn about students’ intellectual interests and capabilities. This knowledge is extremely important in matching students to school.

As Alder’s students are successful in four-year programs, current and future Alder students will benefit because schools will know that Alder students arrive with the academic skills to succeed in their programs. These schools may also increase financial aid offered since they only have to provide support for two years, rather than four.

Alder will have articulation agreements with local colleges and universities, as well as staff who will assist students with applications and credit transfers. We see this support as essential to the success of our students, as transferring schools can often lead to a loss of credits and time.


Alder will assist all students in planning for their future, including those who wish to enter the workforce full time. These students will benefit from Alder’s network of Portland-based community partners and friends of the school, who all have ties to the rich cultural, civic and business life of the city. Alder students will be known as individuals who know how to learn, but our curriculum also includes specific skills, such as networking and informational interviewing, that will benefit students entering any line of work. Just as there is a “hidden curriculum” in college, the workforce also requires many skills that are not often explicitly taught. We will teach these skills.


Higher education and the job market are rapidly changing and we assume some students will be interested in alternative programs such as coding schools or other specialized certificates. Our transition coordinator will work with students to find the best programs that fit their learning and career goals.



We know that the best way to serve both our students and our city is by cultivating thick networks that encourage exploration and ongoing dialogue. By creating teams of community members and supporters, we will begin these conversations that will continue long after the first students walk through our doors.



Through strong connections with local organizations and high schools, Alder will work with teachers and mentors to identify students who would benefit from Alder’s rigorous yet supportive academic environment.

Community & Student Outreach


Alder’s recruitment strategy, which aims to tap into the talent we know is right here in Portland, is markedly different from methods used by many schools that seek to maximize the number of applicants through marketing nationally and internationally. We’re not focused on rankings, but rather on finding local students who would benefit from Alder’s rigorous yet supportive academic environment.

The Community and Student Outreach Team is essential to this local approach. By working with Alder’s admissions staff to identify and build strong connections with Portland youth-serving organizations and high schools, we will cultivate relationships with people who know their students well, know Alder, and know if the two are a good fit. Through this work, team members will also meet others in Portland who are engaged in serving high school students, deepening connections between individuals and groups with shared goals.

For more on Alder’s recruitment strategy, see “Keeping it Local.”



The liberal arts are thriving all over the Portland area in theaters and galleries, at concerts and at book readings. Alder will tap into this rich artistic tapestry and show students that this is only the beginning of their intellectual engagement with the world.

Arts & Culture


Learning does not end when students step out of the classroom. Alder’s rigorous academic curriculum will seize on every opportunity to connect learning with the area’s cultural and civic activities. The Arts & Culture Team will connect faculty to current art exhibits, plays, readings, lectures, concerts, and other offerings. In turn, Alder will create new audiences for Portland’s artists and arts organizations.

As faculty develop courses each year, they will work with the Arts and Culture Team to incorporate local cultural offerings into the curriculum. This might mean designing an entire course around a series of exhibits of current Native American artists at the Portland Art Museum, inviting an actor and director to talk with students about a play they saw, or having students attend an author’s reading after they have read his or her book for a class.

Portland is home to many visual artists, writers, musicians, and thespians who welcome the idea of connecting with their audiences. The Arts and Culture Team will help new audiences connect with these artists and Alder faculty will help ensure that the city’s cultural spaces are places where students feel they belong.



Alder will create an open dialogue with local business leaders to understand their workforce needs, help our students make informed career choices, and create a network that connects students with potential employers.

Business & Industry


Steve Jobs insisted that the best ideas are formed at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Many top executives have liberal arts backgrounds, including the CEOs of Starbucks, HBO, Chipotle, Disney and Merck. The Naval Academy at Annapolis has transformed its curriculum and last year ranked ninth among liberal arts schools on U.S News and World Reports’ list. A Brigadier General explains, “It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers….What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change.” (source)

Alder’s academic curriculum aims to create self-directed learners who can deal with complexity, diversity and change, but we also believe that we need to help students think through their career choices and give them the skills and connections to do so. To this end, the Business and Industry team is essential to our students’ success as they begin to plan for their next steps after Alder.

In order to know if a career might be right for you, you need to know what someone in a profession does all day. Most college students have a very vague sense of career areas, such as law, science, or marketing, but they have not had the chance to talk to people in a profession and ask, what do you actually do? Once students have decided they might want to pursue a certain path, they need to connect with people who can tell them what steps will help them get where they want to go. Should they work for a few years, go into an academic program, find an internship? And once they decide which steps to take, they need connections to people in their chosen fields.

At Alder, students will begin to learn about what different careers actually involve and how to network. Students will conduct informational interviews and talk with professionals in fields that interest them, eventually moving on to shadowing, mock interviewing, and internships. The Business and Industry Team will connect students with the world of work by creating and maintaining dynamic connections between the college and the Portland business community.


Alder also aims to create an ongoing conversation between businesses and liberal arts educators. In surveys, business leaders say they want employees with the critical thinking and communication skills that are central to a liberal arts education. However, what does that actually mean for a recent graduate when she or he is looking for a job? What do Portland’s businesses want from their educational institutions and how can we, as educators, best serve our students as they enter a rapidly changing job market? The Business and Industry Team will help Alder engage in this dialogue, which we believe can benefit both our students and our businesses.





Alder will act as a lab school, sharing best practices with other institutions that may want to integrate elements of our work into their programs.

Rethinking General Education


In “Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College,” Victor Tinto emphasizes the need to redesign the first year in order to increase retention. Camille Farrington, an education researcher at the University of Chicago, has shown how academic mindsets, including a “growth mindset,” are drivers of both academic perseverance and behaviors essential for deeper learning outcomes. Alder is using the work of these and other researchers to reimagine the first two years of college, which often encompass “general education” requirements at most other schools.


Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, shows that many college students demonstrate no significant improvement in skills such as critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing during their first two years of college. Arum and Roksa also argue that these results arise from students who are distracted by socializing and work, and by institutional cultures that do not prioritize undergraduate learning.

Driven by an institutional mission to improve undergraduate learning, the Alder team is building its curriculum and teaching practices around evidence-based research that has been shown to improve student engagement and learning.*

The high-impact practices we will institute include:
·      Cohorts of students
·      Learning communities (faculty teams collaborating on assignments and content)
·      Writing intensive courses
·      Undergraduate research
·      Consistent and frequent feedback from professors
·      Contact with faculty (small classes, independent research)
·      Scaffolding of assignments (building mastery of skills across courses and quarters)
·      Internships

Alder’s teaching methods aim to develop cognitive, as well as metacognitive skills ­—the long-term habits of cognitive self-regulation that characterize independent thinkers and learners. These habits are cultivated through a three-step process of planning, monitoring, and evaluation.

Metacognitive Model (G. Schraw):
·      Planning: what is the nature of my task? What is my goal? What info/strategies do I need?
·      Monitoring: Do I understand what I’m doing? Am I reaching my goals? Do I need to make changes?
·      Evaluation: Have I reached my goal? What worked/didn’t work? What would I do differently?

These metacognitive skills are essential to understand systems, communicate effectively, and develop solutions to complex problems, as well as to successfully navigate further education and the world.

* Note: While our work is informed by many researchers, our curriculum design and teaching practices are most indebted to two groups of researchers. The first were brought together for the Teagel and Spencer Foundations’ multi-university research project to establish “a culture of experimentation and evidence in undergraduate education,”  that resulted in the book, Changing the Conversation about Higher Education. The second group of researchers are from Carnegie Mellon and published their work in How Learning Worker: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.


Robert Weaver and Jiang Qi have studied the importance of faculty-student interactions in the first year of college and found that “students are most vulnerable in their first year of college, and that faculty have a significant role in determining the success of students during this transition period. In various studies, students’ relationships with faculty predicted their academic competence in the first year of college and helped sophomores succeed as well, in terms of grades and satisfaction. Additionally, students’ earliest interactions with faculty shape their future relationships with professors and whether they even seek them out. When these initial contacts are not successful, students are less likely to pursue interactions later.”

Many schools now have centers for teaching and learning, which offer support to interested faculty who can voluntarily seek out services. Alder will instead place teaching at the very center of our work and cultivate a culture of faculty development that assumes teaching is an intellectual activity, every bit as engaging as one’s field of expertise.

What does teacher training look like at the college level? For Alder, here are some of the basics: The curriculum will be designed by the professors collaboratively so that assignments are scaffolded across the students’ two years. This allows skills gaps to be assessed and addressed in a timely matter so that students can master skills before moving on to higher level skills. Faculty will also be trained in Alder’s writing program so that assignments and feedback are consistent between professors. Professors often know their field, but unless they have specifically trained in teaching writing, they do not have an evidence-based method for providing feedback. Faculty will also observe one another and provide feedback about teaching methods and assignments. This will be particularly effective at Alder since faculty can observe students whom they know and can comment on how students interact differently in colleagues’ classes.



“How much does it cost to educate a student?” Alder will constantly ask how a new kind of school might answer that question.

Lowering Costs


Alder will focus on lowering costs while providing a rigorous and supportive learning experience for students. We will be open and transparent about our model and engage with other institutions around best practices. Ways in which we will lower costs are outlined below.


The ability to admit qualified students regardless of financial need is central to Alder’s mission. To this end, fundraising efforts will primarily focus on scholarships. At many colleges, investments in infrastructure and projects not directly related to undergraduate learning lead to the need for large endowments and high tuition. At Alder, we will fundraise with enthusiasm, but with the goal of maximizing accessibility because we believe that the liberal arts should be an opportunity, not a luxury.


The administrative costs associated with college dormitories, food services, fitness centers, and other amenities, increase tuition costs for all students, including many who never use them. Alder will be a non-residential campus, consisting of a centrally located set of classrooms and faculty offices close to public transportation.


Because Alder will focus on the first two years of college, it will not require specialized classes and equipment associated with majors.

Alder’s curriculum is set, meaning each cohort of students takes a predetermined sequence of courses (with some electives in second year). This arrangement creates a predictable enrollment situation where each faculty member knows she will be teaching thirty students in each of her classes. This predictability reduces costs associated with enrollment management and class cancellations, and maximizes faculty capacity, as the school no longer has to absorb the cost of a class with only a few students enrolled.


Business and student services not directly related to student learning will be contracted to a local university or other nonprofit, reducing the need for infrastructure and staff associated with these functions.

When we look at the non-educational administrative functions required to run a college, we find that many are not specific to an institution or to higher education. There is no reason that staff in billing, human resources, legal, and financial aid, could not be shared by more than one university or college. Shared services are used by many other industries and Alder will show that it can be used in higher education without compromising a school’s core mission.


Alder will recruit locally and rely on relationship with community and high school organizations to identify potential students. While the success of this recruitment strategy depends on dedicated Alder staff, the costs associated with this type of recruitment will be far less than the expensive marketing engaged in by many schools. 


Alder will be a launching pad for students who want a rigorous liberal education, which at many traditional liberal arts colleges means a $45,000 base tuition bill. For some students, the cost of dorms, food plans, and plane tickets to come home three times a year when dorms are closed for holiday breaks, makes the cost prohibitive, even with financial aid packages.

Alder’s base tuition will be $20,000 and cohorts will be comprised of students who will be given partial and full scholarships, as well as some who will be paying the base price. Scholarships will be based on financial need.



Alder is an incubator, developing practices that can be shared and modified to benefit students in a number of settings.

Scalable & Replicable


A number of small, two-year colleges have recently opened or are in the process of opening, such as Arrupe College in Chicago and Outer Coast College in Sitka, Alaska. Tiny colleges, such as Shimer College, Goddard College and Deep Springs, have long histories of serving a few students very well. Higher education is in flux, people are experimenting and Alder will be part of these exciting discussions.


When we talk about scalability, we do not mean that Alder itself needs to grow larger to be sustainable. Nor are we talking about a desire to make Alder a model of higher education for everyone, as we do not believe that one size fits all when it comes to post-secondary education.

Alder’s form of education works on a human scale, which is a small scale, and so when we talk about scalability, we mean how can more people experience this human-scale form of education. While we hope that more two- year liberal arts colleges appear, the most likely place where Alder’s type of education could reach more students is within the general education programs of existing colleges and universities. To this end, we will be in dialogue with other schools to think through how our program can be modified to fit within existing institutions.


The success of Alder will in large part be based on its simplicity. Our educational model does not depend on expensive labs, dorms or sports teams. Instead, the replicability of a college such as Alder would depend on reducing barriers to entry, such as issues around accreditation and the cost of business services for small entities.

We aim to show that community relationships and quality teaching can create strong micro colleges. We imagine a cadre of small colleges that would be part of a national network in which non-essential business functions are performed by a central entity. Each college would then be able to focus on the relationships between the community, students, and faculty, that have the most direct impact on student success. To this end, we will work with other small existing and emerging colleges to share ideas and collaborate when possible.

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