The goals of the strategic plan are wrong. Of the 13 goals, the majority are dedicated to recruiting new students and faculty. In order to pursue recruitment, we are prioritizing structural changes to our campus. Old buildings are being torn down and replaced by newer, more aesthetically pleasing spaces. The two major projects in which we have invested are the renovation of Mathias, and the creation of the new athletic facility. The next projects involve the renovation of Slocum and the library. However, none of these projects are the best allocation of funding. These are all investments in short-term improvements that distract us from the larger question our school must examine: how do we fix the Block Plan?
The reason the college is not seriously examining this question is we have lost the tenuous balance between the academic and business components of running a competitive college. The business side of our college is not inherently evil or damaging to our education, but it seems that in the effort to recruit we have pursued making our campus more aesthetically pleasing. Building new buildings creates a false sense of progress based on the mistaken assumption that new is better and that structural change translates into academic excellence. In so doing, we have forgotten that our primary purpose is to educate students in the best way possible. We are no longer innovating education and have stopped cultivating the life of the mind.
From the business side, these structural investments make sense because we can readily generate the revenue for new facilities. When a new building is built, a wing or even the whole building will be named after a family for their generosity. This act of giving, while charitable, is damaging because it rewards those donors who are willing to perpetuate the incorrect assumption that new buildings represent progress. Furthermore, there is an allure to the public reward of generosity that makes business side improvements inherently easier to undertake and complete. From start to finish, the school and donors are both predisposed to the ease of structural, primarily aesthetic change.
When we consider improving the education side of things, the challenges are much more abstract and do not have the same short-term tangible reward. The Block Plan is the unique resource for our school. Yet, our classes are generally traditional and rigid. We do more reading per day but essentially you can always expect a lecture or a discussion depending on the department. Eventually, you will be evaluated through a test or a paper.
If you read the Colorado College description of the Block Plan, it stresses that classes are only three-and-a-half weeks and that block break is a great reward after your hard work. Our school is advertising the wrong part of the Block Plan. What makes the Block Plan great should not be block break. The system should excel because during those three-and-a-half weeks you generally should have no other major responsibilities. This focused allocation of time should mean that we could travel to the best research labs in the country, or more readily combine internships and experiential learning with our classroom. We must invest in making the Block Plan into a flexible system that adapts the course to the subject matter. I am wholly confident that if our teachers had the means, classes would really be unique, intellectual adventures.
Part of the problem, however, is that we, the students, are not demanding more from our education. Recently, classes that travel have become more expensive for students. Instead of rejecting this change as unacceptable, we are just not taking these classes anymore. In turn, traveling classes are offered less with no outcry. Instead we just enroll in other classes and continue towards graduation. The first step of improving our education is to take ownership of our classes. We should be celebrating majors like Geology and the classes that do push the Block Plan. To change our system there needs to be pressure from the bottom up. As students we are uniquely positioned to understand what should be improved in the Block Plan but it is essential that we begin to publicly express our frustrations.
The question, of course, then becomes, “How do we fund new ambitious classes?”, and this is where the business side of our college needs to be redirected back towards innovating education. The first part is that we must refuse to take advantage of the easy and selfish system of aesthetic structural change. When we are talking to potential donors, first and foremost we must stress that Colorado College is a space that is innovating how we educate like nowhere else in the world. Furthermore, when it comes to recruitment, it is likely that we will lose some potential students by not being an institution with the best and newest buildings. We have to hope that there are enough young, ambitious students who are up to the challenge of sincerely engaging in the rigorous process of true higher education. I cannot guarantee that this type of investment will pan out in the next year or two. There will be a difficult period where The Fiske College Guide lambasts our school for having out-of-date facilities or bad food. I am confident that in the long run, while there is inevitably risk, this strategy will create a better education for future generations of students. There should be only one goal in our strategic plan: innovate the Block Plan.