At my recent visit to the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, I heard a few stories of interested parents who came to visit with their sons or daughters. When they arrived at the Ananda Meditation Retreat, where the College is located, they had to ask "Where's the College?" It's a legitimate question, because if you look at either of these websites, you'll see pictures of people and nature, and very few of buildings, especially the kind of buildings that one normally associates with an institution of higher education. And what you do see is an assortment of new and old structures that have been built at various times since 1968, including geodesic domes, yurts, and yes, even a modular office trailer. In short, not exactly what the word "college" generally brings to mind.
This got me thinking, though--what exactly is a college? To think about this clearly, the real question--and the question that prospective students and parents should ask of any such institution--is this: what do you expect from a college?
That's not too hard to answer, really. A student enters this magic box we call "college" and in a few years supposedly comes out as a more educated, more employable, and hopefully better or more actualized human being.
The big question, then, is what's that thing in the middle. And really, what we're after here is this: what is the essence of that "college" thing? Is it, in fact, just a matter of the buildings in which this college thing happens? No--of course not. It's the transmission of understanding from instructors to students. That's what matters in the end: a human-to-human connection for the transmission of consciousness.
With that in mind, we can then ask: "So what do you need to make this transmission of consciousness happen most effectively?" Is it just a matter of erecting a typical academic edifice, or is it about creating a whole environment that's conducive to this transmission? It has to be the latter, if college is to be the most effective.
If we're looking for such an environment, we can easily see that the big institutional structures that people come to expect from "college" are actually detrimental to the true goal. If a structure creates barriers between students and instructors, then the transmission of understanding is impeded. By removing these structures, on the other hand, and allowing closeness, (impersonal) intimacy, and relationships, the transmission can be supported and even amplified.
I remember, as an example, a history class I took my freshman year in college at the University of Washington. I was one of 800 students in that class--it was so large that while I knew the person way down there on the stage was the brilliant professor Jon Bridgman, there wasn't the kind of deeper connection that one needs in order to be inwardly magnetized and inspired by that brilliance. I was fortunate that, being enrolled in the "honors section" of the source, that my section (a smaller group breakout) was led by Professor Bridgman himself. This managed to bring the group size down to 30--better, of course, but there was still a pretty wide chasm between myself and the one from whom I was supposedly drawing higher education. In the end, it simply meant that expectations were higher!
Imagine, then, what it would be like to have that chasm removed altogether, where a student' access to their instructors is, compared to the typical experience, something like the best broadband Internet compared with 1200-baud dial-up service. In such an environment, a student has the opportunity to be deeply inspired and magnetized by not just one instructor or professor, but all of them. And in such an environment, I'll willing to bet that much more "college" actually happen than it does in most other institutions. It's a difference well worth considering!