Free Market Central Interview: This Man Is Rebuilding Higher Education With His Bare Hands (And Those Of His Students)

Free Market Central

American higher education is mired in malaise. Political correctness and Antifa extremism are shutting down the free exchange of ideas on campus and in the classroom. Billions of dollars in government subsidies have turned colleges and universities into bloated bureaucracies, propped up by sky-high tuitions and crushing student debt. In other words, the system is a disaster waiting to happen. More than a few observers have predicted that it could all soon implode.

The good news is that a handful of maverick institutions are bucking these trends.  They’re embracing the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and traditional American values of capitalism, self-reliance, and limited government. Some are even rejecting public funds.

One of these upstarts is tiny Utah-based, Monticello College. Founded in 2010 by Shanon Brooks, the school and its students are rebuilding higher education literally from the ground up.  The fundamentals of enlightenment thinking, American history and Western Civilization are taught along with what Brooks calls the “manual arts.” Students study Aristotle and John Locke, while learning farming, construction and wilderness skills. 

No $45,000 tuitions here.  Tuition maxes out at $10,000 for a residential master’s degree, $7,000 for residential undergraduates.

Free Market Central recently asked Dr. Brooks about Monticello’s unique approach and the need for educational innovation.

Tell us about Monticello College.

Sure. Monticello College is a unique small liberal arts/manual arts school specifically designed to prepare students to take a leadership role in society. Our mission is "to build men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty."

When did you launch?

Monticello was conceived on a remote 80-acre mountain location here in southern Utah in 2010. I had been involved in another start-up school for many years and saw a need to combine a proven liberal arts/freedom oriented curriculum with hands-on experience in the manual arts. In 2009, I resigned my position at that school and began preparations to kick-off Monticello College.

How many are enrolled?

In 2017—our second year full time on campus—we had 12 students. Keep in mind that our goal is only 100. 

Only 100?

We believe less is more. Instead of high cost facilities and all of the regular higher education trappings, we purposely scaled down to "bare bones."

 “Less is more” also allows you to charge a lot less. Your maximum tuition is $10,000 for a residential master’s degree.  At those rates, one would think you’d seek federal subsidies. But you’re among the tiny handful of colleges in the U.S. that don’t accept any government funds. Why?

United States federal funding of education is a fundamental violation of U.S. Constitutional original intent—that all education was to be administered privately or at the state level. There is no indication that the founders envisioned funding or administration of education at the federal level as we have today.

Can you describe the course of study?

Our core curriculum is comprised of the Great Books of the Western World originally compiled by the University of Chicago under Mortimer Adler in the 1950's.  We offer a single BA-Liberal Arts, in addition to two master's degrees in Education and Natural Law. 

Natural Law?

The Monticello College Master's Degree in Natural Law is a 3-year program and pulls from the same sources the American founders studied. This degree covers the great discussion about law and government from ancient times down to the American founding era, and beyond. Reading these great works is like getting the kind of education young Thomas Jefferson and James Madison got, in the rich tradition of the greatest books on freedom throughout history. This course of readings forms the underpinning of any great education about government, politics, law and freedom.

Many colleges today are repudiating the lessons of the Founding Fathers. You’re doing the opposite.

It is simply a matter of history. Whatever greatness America has today is a result of the foundation given to us by those original Americans. 

Tell us about student life.

Our school year runs from April to November.  Barring inclement weather, students and faculty begin each day with sunrise solitude— 30 minutes of personal quiet time outside in nature. The next two hours are chores and a rigorous Physical Training program . . .Breakfast is next followed by a study period, class every other day, more study time (35 hours a week). Evenings are left open for free time and the occasional visiting lecturer.

Classes are basically Socratic Method. Students come to class having read the reading for that class, we discuss for 3 hours. 

From the looks of your videos, students spend a lot of time outdoors. Fitness appears to be a big part of your regimen. 

About once a month we will set the books aside and spend a few days in the wilderness hiking and learning survival skills. 

You’re not just a school but a working farm.  Monticello places a great deal of emphasis on what you call “the manual arts.” Students are literally building the campus from scratch.

The students put in about 20 hours a week building the campus. Imagine the wealth of experience they get - farm management, field development, construction in conventional and alternative building methods, off grid power generation, root cellars and soil development, permaculture design planning and implementation, project management, and skill development on a backhoe and other farm equipment, a big winner for all students.

Why do you consider the manual arts to be so important?

This type of education produces real men and women. Not employees or followers. Leaders who know how to get involved, identify problems and help solve them whether it is in the workplace, the halls of government, or in your neighborhood. 

Wouldn't you want to hire someone like this? Would you be willing to do business with people of this caliber? How would they be as neighbors? On your city council? You get my point.

Is Monticello accredited?

We are neither accredited nor currently seeking accreditation.  The primary and ultimate role of accreditation today is to certify that a school is eligible to receive federal funding for tuition. 

How does being unaccredited affect your graduates’ career prospects?

Our approach to higher education is not based on securing employment, but rather developing the mind and building the individual to be a superb human being.

I have worked with hundreds of students and tracked over 150 graduates over the prior 6 years that I worked at another non-accredited institution. They were able to go into 35 different fields of employment, entrepreneurial ventures, or graduate work including several who were accepted into 1st law schools. 

What do you think of the turbulence on American campuses right now?

Modern American education generally has lost its original purpose. There was a time when humility, respect, service, and hard work defined the best path to self-actualization. But the university [has] strayed from its role of safeguarding the culture and preparing the next generation to lead, to being a business for hire. We believe a return to the original model of American education is one of the most important steps we can take in restoring our culture and our republic.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.

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