Nearly a dozen years ago, a nonprofit called the Big Picture Company opened the doors of a small, intensely student-focused public high school aimed at educating and graduating students at high risk of academic failure.
Two years from now, the organization plans to start doing the same thing at the college level. As it’s now envisioned, the Big Picture College will open in Providence, R.I., in September 2009 as a satellite of Goddard College, a private liberal-arts institution in Plainfield, Vt.
Fueled in part by foundation support, the Providence-based Big Picture Company has extended its unorthodox educational approach, which eschews the traditional structures of subjects and courses, to 44 high, middle, and elementary schools around the country. (The chairman of the board of Education Week’s parent company is also the chairman of the Big Picture Company’s board.)
Dennis Littky, a co-director of the organization and the college-to-be’s program director, sees the project as a natural extension of Big Picture’s work.
A high school diploma, Mr. Littky said, “doesn’t really mean much anymore. You need a college degree or certification … to have even a somewhat successful job. We’re taking that next step that’s necessary.”
The hope, Mr. Littky said, is to start with 30 students in a residential setting and hold down their costs to $5,000 a year. He’s aiming to graduate 90 percent of the first class, and would eventually like to see five to 10 Big Picture colleges across the country.
Peter S. Burns, Goddard’s dean of enrollment management and external relations, called the nascent partnership “a natural fit.” The college’s board of trustees has approved the arrangement in principle but not made it final. Goddard students attend no formal classes and, like Big Picture school students, design their own curricula.
Robyn Gittleman, the director of Medford, Mass.-based Tufts University’s Experimental College, welcomed news of the planned college, but passed along a warning about higher education’s traditionalism. “If you’re on the cutting edge,” she said, “you should expect that people will push back.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2007 edition of Education Week