Ralston College and the Future of Higher Education

Philanthropy Roundtable believes every American should have the freedom to reach his or her full, unique potential and achieve economic security. The Roundtable supports organizations that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.

In our increasingly complex world, the liberal arts college performs an essential function: It produces critical thinkers who have the ability to learn skills and synthesize material – and to take ownership over their actions. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to prepare future generations for work, life and civic engagement as powerful individuals is crucial if not urgent. 

With the average American changing careers five to seven times, one could argue a liberal arts education is more valuable now than ever before.  A recent survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities backs up that claim, with nearly three-fourths of employers nationwide advising students to pursue a well-rounded liberal arts education. 

Ralston College, a new, liberal arts institution based in Savannah, Georgia, seeks to educate students in the liberal arts tradition — and to challenge the status quo in higher education.

Ralston Founder and President Stephen Blackwood believes many universities are depriving students of the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue: 

“It is no secret that the integrity of higher education in the United States has become questionable – not least because most colleges and universities are no longer places where freedom of inquiry, and the freedom of speech on which free inquiry depends, are protected, let alone celebrated. Nevertheless, our vocation is not critique, but to show another way.”

The college’s stated goals are bold yet simple: 

  1. Challenge degree-seeking students to think deeply and grapple with fundamental questions of yesterday and today through bachelors and masters programs;
  2. Democratize inquiry and provide access to educational content offered by Ralston to anyone, anywhere, anytime they want to learn;
  3. Recruit people with an expansive sense of wonder and an abiding love of learning to participate in-person and online in fellowship;
  4. Partner with those who embrace freedom of thought and share a commitment to engaging vital ideas in the intellectual public square; and
  5. Secure the ability to build a global educational enterprise that is engaging for prestigious faculty, nurturing for promising students, and efficient in its operational management.

In an impressive partnership with FutureLearn, an online learning platform that reaches 15 million students across 200 countries, the college will offer a series of short courses in the humanities. Ralston College is in the process of designing many other courses and degree programs for students, including an in-person master’s degree offered on the Savannah campus in September 2022.  

As self-proclaimed “positive contrarians,” the college demonstrates not just the democratization of liberal arts education, but also an entrepreneurial approach to tackling the problems in higher education institutions.

According to Blackwood, “Entrepreneurs don’t merely complain or criticize: they act, and they act by introducing superior products that unseat the lazy establishment. What we need in this country are not more critiques of institutions of higher education, but new institutions that actually provide higher education.”

To that end, Blackwood and his growing team at Ralston, which now includes clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson as chancellor, encourage scholars, students and philanthropists alike to imagine what can and must be done to build superior alternatives — and then to act with a sense of urgency. 

Interested in helping accelerate this organization’s impact? Please visit Ralston College or reach out to Philanthropy Roundtable Program Director Erica Haines. America’s future is bright, yet dialogue, refinement of ideas and commitment to our country’s values and principles is fundamental to our future. 

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