Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More trouble for Founders College

ARCHN Commenter Behemoth linked this article about Founders College, a new private for-profit college with strong Objectivist overtones. I was an undergraduate not so long ago (at a huge evil behemoth public university to boot), and the memory is still fresh in my mind. My years in university were in many ways the best years of my life, and the same is true for many people. Of course my life is pretty good now too, but university was just so much fun. College was also the time I "discovered" Objectivism, but i guess you can't win them all.

I enjoyed immersing myself in learning from people doing groundbreaking research in their fields, interacting with a wide range of people (especially because I went to a huge public school, it's probably less so in smaller schools), having my first serious relationship, and more. Most students are at an age when you're just on the horizon of adulthood, and able to make your own decisions for your life that you couldn't before. Being young, you're full of ideas and enthusiasm for life (which unfortunately also confers a higher susceptibility to Objectivism). I spent many nights spent in intense, intelligent conversation with other bright and pretty young people that left me delighted and high for days.

But more pertinent to the above article, and to the whole Founders college affair, is that these years are also decisive years for young people. Career opportunities, and opportunities for other things in life depend heavily on performance during these years. Most college students are young, inexperienced and immature and look to their professors and other staff for guidance in their lives. As a student I put a lot of trust in my institution and my professors. My professors were some of first positive role models I had that I thought worth respecting and emulating.

This is why I don't think for profit schools are such a good idea, especially when they end up a flop like Founders. I don't think Founders has the resources to offer a sufficiently broad and rigorous curriculum, or the guidance and support young people need. It sucks for the students who decided to invest in Founders for their education, because in the end they're the ones getting screwed.


Behemoth said...

It sounds like the problems at Founders are not directly related to its philosophy, rather it's suffering from problems with management, recruitment, and finances. Regardless, I feel bad for the people involved in the enterprise, who clearly went in with high hopes for creating something worthwhile and improving students' lives.

Like Meg, I went to a behemoth public university, and I have to say that the exposure to such a diverse group of people and experiences were as important to my growth as the academic material I studied. Immersion in student life, my year abroad, even the unfortunate time I spent as head of the campus Objectivist club all were great learning experiences that helped mold who I am today. A tiny school whose student base is entirely on board with a relatively narrow curriculum is inherently going to deny students some of those experiences. Of course, the students would know that going in, and this is the case for a lot of small, private universities, but it strikes me overall as the college-age equivalent of home-schooling; the end result is people released into the real world from an overly sheltered environment. That's not what life at a university is supposed to be about.

Jay said...


That's pretty much spot on as far as what college is like. But why does that make for-profit colleges a bad idea?

Michael Prescott said...

Most of the truly great colleges in this country are privately owned. State universities are, for the most part, a long step down from the Ivy Leagues and their equivalents. I would think that if the goal is to get the best education possible, one would go to the best school possible.

As for mixing with a variety of people, I think you'll find that diversity-outreach programs have made this a nonissue even at the snootiest schools.

Jeffrey Griese said...

I see nothing wrong with a for-profit business model for higher education. The organization at Founders College has been intentionally structured around a more flexible education model than one would normally find at a public college.

Founders College is a start-up company and, like all start-ups, we've come into some difficult times. Nevertheless, the people who have committed themselves to developing this school are passionate supporters of the ideas underpinning Founders College--this includes the for-profit model.

I must say, however, that the level of eduction taught at Founders exceeds my expectations. The quality of student services, the access to professors and faculty, the beautiful campus estate, not to mention the 5-star suites and fine-dining, all contribute to making the Founders Difference.

Since I applied to Founders College, I've been dismayed at all the bad press and pessimism from individuals who hold more grievance with Ayn Rand than they do with some college in the middle of southern Virginia. If only those same people would take a tour of the campus and speak with the very students whom they generally seem to hold in poor regard. I do pray, that I am mistaken, and that your intentions are of the most noble nature.

Best regards,

Jeffrey Griese
Founders College
Class of 2011

Meg's Marginalia said...

Hi Jeffrey,
I assure you my intentions are indeed of a most noble nature. I would love to visit you in Virginia, can I crash at your 5 star hotel if I do? Unfortunately I don't have much time or money to do so right now. Also I have a boyfriend so I dont know if he would like me crashing at guys' 5 star hotels. And it wouldn't be very capitalist or self interested of you to let me sleep on your couch. If you're happy in Founders, that's great. To each their own.

Meg's Marginalia said...

I agree with you that most private unversities are better than their state school counterparts, and all the Ivies are private and definitely the best there is. I would have gone to one of those schools if I had the means and the opportunity to. However I disagree that diversity outreach programs are what makes these schools great. To me it was more about having a critical mass, if there are enough people there's bound to be someone who you can click with. Or maybe it's because I'm not a huge fan of people who flaunt their "diversity" and never hung out with people like that anyway.

Meg's Marginalia said...

Re: For-profit universities.

This could be a post on its own, and maybe I'll expand my thoughts on it later. But briefly, I think it's at best superfluous and at worst detrimental.

I was initially thinking of Australia, but I found an article about international students in the UK
In UK and most Commonwealth countries, international students pay much higher fees than local students. This gives an incentive to recruit more lucrative foreign students regardless of their actual qualifications, which erodes the academic standards of the school. The best interests of the school, maintaining its high academic standards, fostering a vibrant intellectual culture of free inquiry (or as free as possible), are sometimes at odds with the maximization of profit.

I suppose you can say that increasing the quality of the experience with increase demand and therefore there is a motive to keep standards high. But in practice I don't think that's what usually happens.

At best, it is superfluous, because the money generated will accrue to the owners and shareholders of the school corporation and not be invested back into the school. I don't see this could be a good thing, to know that a significant part of your school fees are not going towards anything remotely related to your improve education but instead to the coffers of the school's shareholders.

Although education can definitely be seen as a commodity that you place a dollar value on, there is also the learning, maturing and support that goes on, cannot be adequately quantified in monetary terms alone.

Anonymous said...

Those are some very interesting links for anyone thinking about Founders College.

Anonymous said...

This story discusses the piece of property next to Founers that was supposed to contain an educational facility. Founders Colelge CEO/Chariman Tamara Fuller discussed a tv station in the over 800 housing units for people to watch the classes at Founders. She also mentioned a Nordstroms, cinema, ponds, golf course and world-class equestrian center.

This part of the business model was touted over and over again, complete with large, architectural renditions.

With Founders College now defunct, the owners of Berry Hill Estate are on
the brink of losing a large tract of land that the college acquired last
year for a much-heralded expansion that never materialized.

A public auction has been scheduled for June 20 at 10 a.m. on the steps of
the Halifax County Courthouse to field offers for 390.4 acres that Founders
College Development, LLC purchased from Eva Harris in May 2007. The sale is
a foreclosure action, said Edward Hodges, an attorney with Clement &
Wheatley in Danville, which is serving as trustee to the transaction.

³There¹s been a breach of the terms of the deed of trust and to that extent
the beneficiary [Harris] Š has asked us to proceed² with the auction, said
Hodges. ³I can¹t really comment on the degree of the breach, only that it¹s
a circumstance that gives them the ability to basically ask the trustee to
exercise the power of sale under the deed of trust.²

Hodges said a public auction was the customary way in the state of Virginia
of handling foreclosure cases. The trustees reserve the right to reject any
and all bids; if the property fails to sell, the previous owners reclaim it
under Virginia law.

Founders College Development LLC, then headed by Tamara Fuller, purchased
the 390-acre tract from Eva Harris for $2.1 million with the intent of
developing the site as a multi-use residential and commercial area near the
college. Plans called for the construction of townhouses, shops and a golf
course close by to the main mansion.

The Town of South Boston, acting at Fuller¹s request, rezoned the site as
planned developmental-residential prior to the college¹s demise early this

Mike Harris, who handled the original sale of the property for his mother,
declined comment yesterday when asked about the possibility of foreclosure.

The land in question is made up of three tracts which together will be
offered for sale at auction. The properties will be sold ³as is² and
qualified bidders must show the ability to meet a cash deposit requirement
of $250,000 or 10 percent of the sale price, whichever is lower.

Anonymous said...

Sigh... As a person who visited Founders and found the facilities and faculty to be unlike anything I've ever experienced, how unfortunate that it was so thoroughly mismanaged.

As a person who's now attended a variety of small private colleges, community colleges and gigantic state run universities - meaning, I can speak from experience - I can safely say that the smaller the school, the better the education, hands down. You're paying money to be educated, usually a lot of money. In a smaller college setting, you get much more personal attention, smaller class sizes, more in depth discussion than you could *ever* possibly have in some huge "lecture" hall, where the professors have all but forgotten the art of lecturing. To each his own, for sure, but if you want the most bang for your buck, by almost any measure, smaller, more efficient schools that put the student first will always be better than the gigantic, bureaucratic, study-for-the-test nightmare of a large state run school.
Furthermore, having just happened upon this blog, it's unfortunate when I run into people who've so thoroughly misunderstood Ayn Rand, or perhaps had a bad experience with Rand fanatics that they toss the baby out with the proverbial bath water. Face to face communication is always superior to the written word, but judging by your blog posts here, it seems your judgement has been clouded by a severe axe to grind. Here's to hoping you find whatever it is you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

Tamara Fuller is a smart businessperson with a fine mind. Her personality is flawed, however, in that she somehow felt grossly entitled to hire people without ever having the intention of paying them. This is a fact. In business, it's called "Using Other Peoples' Money," a concept she obviously had perfected.

Anonymous said...

I have known Tamara for 24 years. She is a good person with a lot integrity. We don't know the details of how things went wrong, but I have no doubt she worked herself to the bone to do right by everyone involved.