Rick Hendra & Ed Harris

Historians of higher education commonly dismiss news of recent innovations in curriculum or services with a nod to some college that pioneered a similar concept decades earlier. And they are usually right. Though their histories seem short by European standards, the sheer number and diversity of American colleges and universities assure that nearly every conceivable variation on the academic experience was at least foreshadowed some time prior to the Second World War (some would say the First). We propose one exception: the University Without Walls movement.

Many historians would dispute that contention. It is certainly too broad a claim to be defended as it stands. In this article, we hope to make clear in what sense we think the UWW movement constituted a distinct and even radical innovation on the educational scene, and why we think it now begs for further study. First, a brief history of UWW will serve to isolate the innovative elements from those with plausible antecedents. Then we will review the research on UWW and suggest some directions it might take in the future.

The Origins of UWW

In many ways, certainly, the University Without Walls was not new, having sprung directly from the soil first tilled by the self-proclaimed "experimental colleges" of the 1920s and 1930s -- colleges like Antioch, Bard, Bennington, Black Mountain, Goddard, and Sarah Lawrence. These colleges developed in conscious opposition to the growing hegemony of the comprehensive research university, in several cases (Antioch's most notably) as a last-ditch rethinking of their original missions in the face of insolvency [6, p. 474]. Others were newly founded and conceived as experimental, in some way, from the start. All were committed to putting the undergraduate student back into the center of the educational enterprise. None even made the leap until the sixties.

These new and renewed liberal arts colleges were invigorated by the ideas of John Dewey and actively nurtured by the progressive education movement. They emphasized individualized or interdisciplinary programs and the fine arts; independent study along with greater student responsibility for the educational process; the development of a community of learners; experiential learning, whether work or service related; small, seminar style classes; and mentoring relationships with faculty. They tended to de-emphasize "such traditional practices as grades, examinations, degree criteria and entrance requirements" [6, p. 476]. Their commitment to a philosophy of educational experimentation and "learning how to learn" as a foundation for such non-traditional practices marked these colleges as a distinct new type on the higher educational scene.

Because of their ties to the progressive education movement and the shared concerns among their institutions, many of the faculty and administrators of the experimental colleges were well acquainted with one another. Some pursued academic careers almost entirely within this group of institutions. William H. Kilpatrick, Dewey's (self-proclaimed) foremost disciple, was one such unifying thread, having been involved in the founding of several experimental colleges, including Sarah Lawrence and Bennington [3, pp. 94-5, 264-8, 348-9]. It was hardly remarkable then for the presidents of ten of these institutions to come together in 1964 to form a consortium known as the Union for Research and Experimentation in Higher Education (UREHE), later the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities (UECU).

Royce ("Tim") Pitkin, founder and president of Goddard College until 1975, was the inspirational leader of this early consortium effort [8, p. 11]. Under his guidance, Goddard had remained exceptionally committed to the concept of institutional experimentation which had marked the beginning or transitional years (though not always the later histories*) of most of the member colleges. These initially numbered ten: Antioch College, Bard College, the New College of Hofstra University, Monteith College of Wayne State University, Nasson College, Northeastern Illinois University, Sarah Lawrence College, Shimer College, Stephens College, and Goddard. While Pitkin provided the inspiration, Antioch College provided more substantial support: President James Dixon contributed ideas and direction as well as offices for consortium activities on the Yellow Springs campus. Antioch also provided the consortium's first president and most energetic advocate, Sam Baskin.

The Union's mission was innovative in its emphasis on research and development projects that would effect changes on the members' own campuses. The Consortium had three functions:

1) to conduct experiments and research projects involving two or more member colleges;
2) to foster research in education by individuals within member colleges; and
3) to give visibility to results achieved both by its coordinated research projects and by the projects of individual faculty members of the member colleges. [8, p. 12]

The emphasis on research and development implied an orientation towards grantsmanship, especially in the free-spending sixties, and the Union proved adept at the game. The emphasis on grants, in turn, assured that the consortium would develop beyond just a club for college presidents into an organization with paid staff. It was this staff that Sam Baskin directed from the Antioch campus in Yellow Springs. An early indication of the impact this organization would have was its work on the concept and initial funding for Change magazine, which it later spun off as an independent publication with George Bonham as editor [8, p. 24].

A turning point for the UREHE came in 1967 with a grant of nearly $300,000. from the Charles F. Kettering Foundation for "Project Changeover", whose "purpose was to assist college faculty members in developing and trying out new methods of teaching" [8, p. 12]. The main elements of the Project were summer workshops set up to study current innovations and develop plans for a teaching experiment; to undertake that experiment during the regular academic year; and to follow up the experiment with a four week summer study of the results for purposes of revision [8, p. 12]. Project Changeover was carried out over a three year period involving over one hundred Union and non-Union faculty members at Nasson College, in Springvale, Maine.

By the conclusion of the Project in 1970, significant changes had occurred. The Union, first of all, had expanded by seven institutions, as ten new members joined and three of the original members left. Membership, to be sure, was not a casual affair, costing four thousand dollars a year at that time. The three that left were Shimer, Nasson, and Sarah Lawrence colleges. The new members were: Chicago State University, Friends World College, Loretto Heights College, the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, the University of Minnesota, New College of Sarasota, University of the Pacific, Staten Island Community College, Westminster College, and the University of Wisconsin/Green Bay.

This was a critical shift in the mix, as the UECU's 1984 Institutional Self Study makes clear: "These new members changed the nature and intent of the consortium, as it now included both public and private institutions which served a diverse group of learners throughout the United States" [8, p.13]. About that same time, the consortium changed its name to the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities -- the UECU -- and was incorporated in Ohio.

But something else came out of Project Changeover besides new members and a new name. A subgroup of faculty on this project, feeling the frustration of efforts that were piecemeal in nature with limited impact in encouraging new programs or in influencing college-wide change," had begun working on plans for a "utopian university" [1, p. 21]. These ideas were developed into a formal proposal by the UECU staff in 1970. The new entity was to be called the "University Without Walls", and it was "to be sponsored directly by the UECU in cooperation with member colleges" [1, p. 21].

This utopian university had little that was actually new about it. The faculty group that designed it borrowed freely from the innovations pioneered by their own institutions. Colleges like Antioch and Goddard, in particular, provided a wealth of alternatives to draw from: independent learning contracts, individualized degree programs, cooperative education, and so on. But because they were drawing on such a rich mix of options, their new model went further, and in more directions, than any single institution had dared to go up to that time.

The initial descriptions of the model specified eight "organizing concepts" which together defined the alternative philosophy of its program. In an early (1972) journal report on the UWW program [1, p. 21], Sam Baskin and Edwin F. Hallenbeck (Director of Research for the UECU, and Director of the UWW at Roger Williams College) described those ideas in this way:

    1. Inclusion of a broad range of persons, as many beyond the usual age for college would like to have and would profit from a college education. Many of them have acquired much skill and knowledge from their life experiences, which can and should be recognized as contributing to college level work and the degree.

    2. Involvement of students, faculty members, and administrators in the design and development of each UWW unit. It is clear that students are less resistant to programs they themselves have helped to devise and operate.

    3. Development of special seminars and other procedures to prepare students to learn on their own and . . . to prepare faculty members for the new instructional procedures to be used in the UWW program.

    4. Employment of flexible time units, as no two students are exactly alike in their background, educational aptitudes, interests and needs . . .[In what is otherwise almost a verbatim recount of Baskin's and Hallenbeck's list, a publication entitled UWW: First Year Report [9, p. 9] adds the following sentences to this item: 'Programs were to be individually tailored by student and advisor. There would be no fixed curriculum and no uniform time schedule for the award of the degree.']

    5. Use of a broad array of resources for teaching and learning, both in and out of the classroom, recognizing that students also learn from their own firsthand experiences . . .

    6. Use of an adjunct faculty involving many persons outside the regular educational institution who can contribute significantly to students' undergraduate experience . . . Any society should include among its educators its best artists, scientists, writers, musicians, dancers, physicians, lawyers, industrialists, financiers, and other specialists.

    7. Opportunities for students to use the resources of other UWW units in the network. . . In addition, learning may be greatly enhanced if a student can be part of the 'mix' of more than one educational institution.

    8. Traditional assessment procedures (time spent in classrooms, course credits, grades, achievement tests on prescribed subject matter) do not reveal enough about the individual's growth and development . . . One crucial task of the UWW program will be to find new approaches to evaluation that will periodically appraise the individual's cognitive and affective learning for the student and his advisor.

    Antecedents can certainly be found for each of these eight ideas, but taken together and moved to the center of institutional practice, they promised a university that would be like no other. The emphasis on a "broad age range" further underscored the differences between the University Without Walls and the colleges and universities that then made up the UECU, and gave new power to several of those well-traveled ideas.

While this utopian institution would be distinguished more by its mix of non-traditional elements than by those elements themselves, the involvement of the Union gave it a more radical twist. The UECU, after all, was concerned with bringing innovation to its members' campuses. The funding proposal that went out, therefore, called not for a single new experimental college but for many new units, mostof them to be seeded within UECU members' own institutions. The eight organizing principles became the criteria for participation in the UWW program; institutions wishing to start a UWW had to agree to them. It thus became an attempt at change on a grand scale: public as well as private institutions across the country became the focus of a coordinated campaign to open doors to new students and new faculty, in new settings, with new ways of conceiving a college degree. What set this campaign apart from the general counter-cultural thrust of the sixties and marked its maturity was the decision not to set up in opposition to established institutions but to work for change from within them.

The proposal met with favor from several agencies: in 1971, the U.S. Office of Education provided $415,000. and the Ford Foundation another $400,000. to launch the program. The Carnegie Foundation then provided another $175,000. from 1973-76 to support its continued development. The Union, in all, received $2.5 million in outside funding between 1969 and 1976 [5, p. 19].

The funding sufficed to get programs going, but foundation support alone could not buy legitimacy. In programs differing so resolutely from the norm, the overriding student concern would be access to an accredited degree. In typically bold fashion, the UECU was chartered in 1971 as a degree-granting institution in Ohio. In 1972, the UWW program was granted Candidate for Membership Status by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting body.

Such recognition meant that the UWW programs springing up around the country did not have to fight individual battles for legitimacy. Independent UWWs could begin operating immediately, with credibility if not accreditation, under the UECU umbrella. UWWs on established campuses could award degrees either through the host institution or through the UECU while negotiations with their host institutions were underway, thus providing them some leverage in the deliberations. UWW programs at places like Skidmore College, Morgan State College, and Roger Williams College, where the UECU awarded the degree, were referred to as "affiliated institutions". In those few cases where the approval of the host institution was not obtained, the UECU "occasionally decided to operate the program [themselves], thus establishing UWW service offices outside of Ohio.

The results were impressive: by 1972, after only one year in existence, nearly three thousand students were enrolled in twenty separate UWW programs. Those numbers grew rapidly over the next few years. Fifty separate UWW programs were initiated during the 70's. While only two of those programs are still operating under the UWW moniker, we know that many have continued under different names. How many have continued and how many have folded are not known. The UECU reported that a "sample taken in 1982 of eight institutions which offer UWW programs revealed a total of three thousand graduates" [8, p. 14], and that "between 1971 and 1982, a total of 716 UECU baccalaureate degrees were granted through affiliate institutions and 373 were granted through programs operated by the UECU" [8, p. 16].

The numbers are teasingly incomplete. The need for more research is underscored by the fact that these figures are decades old and represent only a fraction of the UWW programs then in operation. The total number of students who have graduated from UWW programs nationwide is unknown. Indeed, as the UECU's Institutional Self Study (1984) points out, "The impact of the consortium has never been adequately measured . . .. Research has not yet been undertaken to assess the impact of the UWW program on these [graduates] and many others who have come in contact with it through the years" [8, p.14].

Fortunately, the numbers tell only a small part of the story. The legacy of the UWW movement lies primarily in its commitment to and efforts on behalf of populations previously ignored by traditional institutions. The UECU assisted in the creation of programs and institutions for Native Americans (Flaming Rainbow University in Oklahoma, for instance, was originally a UWW affiliate), for Chicanos (Hispanic International University in Houston), for Puerto Ricans (Universidad Boriqua in New York City and Washington D.C.), for prisoners (UWW/Loretto Heights, UWW/Skidmore, and UWW at UMass/Amherst), for learners with disabilities, and so on. It also assisted several historically black colleges with curricular innovation, establishing UWWs at Shaw University, Howard University, Morgan State University, and Chicago State University. In 1976 (probably the last year that reliable statistics were available for all UWWs around the country), "half of all UWW and UGS (UECU's graduate school) students were women, 55% were older than 23 years, 32% were black, 12% were Spanish speaking, 4% were Native American, and .6% were Asian [5, p. 20]. These are impressive figures, now as then.

Although the UECU also initiated programs for high school seniors, its most enduring accomplishments centered on adult learners. As far back as 1973, the UWW network reported that 40% of its matriculating students were over 30 years of age, 5% over 50 [2]. Only a handful of community colleges could match those numbers back then, and probably no four year schools. That adults now make up nearly half of all college students nationwide is due in part to the work that these UWWs did in pleading their case and clearing their path.

With so many UWWs seeded into already established institutions, the impact of the UWW movement on mainstream education certainly exceeded that of the experimental colleges of the thirties, and in a much shorter timeframe. Although it finally took the "baby bust" of the eighties to pull other colleges and universities onto the older student bandwagon, it is unlikely that working adults would have joined the parade in such numbers had it not been for the growing legitimacy of experiential learning which the UECU and its progeny advocated so forcefully and demonstrated so well. Their development of credible prior learning assessment procedures was especially important in shifting the student pool. The UECU/UWW movement deserves credit for providing the leadership -- and the tools -- that were needed for higher education at the baccalaureate level to confront the demographic dislocations of the last two decades and change the face of its student body.

The Great Experiment -- and its Undoing

The role of the UECU in fostering this broad offensive on the educational establishment is not without parallel in the history of higher education. The Morrill Federal Land Grant Act, most notably, both created new institutions and transformed the curricula in many existing ones -- and on an even grander scale. The Carnegie Foundation's efforts in the early years of this century to standardize admissions requirements and administrative practices had perhaps even more profound effects. But what made the UWW movement unique, we believe, was its experimental design and intentions.

The UREHE, you recall, originally conceived its purposes very much in terms of research and development, including both individual initiatives and initiatives between campuses. It also saw the need to bring visibility to those efforts. Project Changeover, from which the model for UWW developed, was based firmly on that agenda: its purpose was to design an experiment to be carried out on Union members' campuses, to be jointly evaluated and then revised. This same orientation was then carried over into the implementation of the UWW program. As noted in the UWW: First Year Report (1972):

    It is regrettable that so many project for the improvement of higher education have been introduced with no serious attention to testing their merits or defects . . . The proposal of the University Without Walls calls for major research on its effectiveness. This research is intended to obtain evidence of the impact of the UWW on (a) the achievement of students' learning goals and their overall intellectual, personal and social development; (b) effects of the program on others who have been involved in it (faculty, advisers, adjuncts, and other community persons) and others who have not; (c) the program's influence within and outside the institution; (d) spin-off effects on other groups; (e) special contributions to certain students such as the highly disadvantaged; and (f) implications for the cost of higher education [9, p. 35].

The research called for in this report was facilitated by a grant from the Research Division of the U.S. Office of Education in 1971, to be carried on over a three to five year period [9, p. 35]. Besides generating much useful data on the early efforts and impact of the various UWW programs, it helped open lines of communication among those far-flung operations and maintain a sense of the larger whole. The emphasis was on what has come to be called "action research": studies designed for improved practices rather than publications. It encouraged collaborative efforts and coordinated data gathering. The information exchanged through the Union's regional/national task forces and the joint publications which these funds supported helped good ideas and practices diffuse rapidly, promoting quality in instructional practices and consistency in standards. This network of communication proved so important for developing and diffusing sound prior learning assessment procedures that another organization was developed just for that purpose, the Council for the Advancement of Experiential Learning (CAEL).

What promised to make all this research particularly valuable was the fact that the UECU had taken great pains not to standardize the UWW units:

    The UECU took the position that each UWW institution should function as an autonomous unit within the framework established for the program [the eight organizing concepts]. The UECU . . . [would serve] as a clearinghouse and coordinator to facilitate the development of the UWW as a network for interchange of ideas and resources. Each UWW college unit had to create its own planning process and shape its own program. This resulted in each institution dealing with distinctive constituencies, admissions and tuition policies, relationships with faculty and building its own pattern of flexibility and strategy for a new program [1, p. 25].

What was intended, in other words, was a large number of separate experiments at social change, looking towards separate yet coordinated evolutions in the widest variety of organizational environments. What finally evolved as UWW at the University of Massachusetts is certainly very different from what evolved at Skidmore College, or at Flaming Rainbow University, or at the UWW's still operated by the UECU itself. And yet each could immediately recognize the others' common identity as a University Without Walls. As an experiment in organizational change on a large scale it has few parallels. In the academic milieu, we suspect it is unprecedented: the Land Grant Act had no similar self-study included in its charter; the Carnegie Foundation's efforts were aimed at standardization, not diversity.

More important than its place in history, however, is the current state of this collective experiment: Is it still going on? What has been learned? What questions have been raised, and which persist? That brings us to the second, sadder half of the story.

The Demise of the UECU

The years 1970 through 1976 were the glory years of the UECU. By 1976, the UECU had grown to thirty one members, including some that "were not colleges but rather . . . organizations committed to responsible, innovative approaches to social change" [8, pp. 13-14]. The fifty UWW programs were all underway in varying degrees of affiliation with the UECU. The Union Graduate School was also operational and awarding degrees. This was the heyday of the UECU, but the clouds were gathering. The storm hit quickly and hard: less than two years later, a small group of UGS faculty and students filed a motion in Federal Bankruptcy Court forcing the UECU into reorganization under Chapter XI.

What happened -- and what caused it -- has never been adequately explained in the literature. It seems ironic that the UECU's Self Study of 1984 defers to a short report by Michael Kirkhorn in the April '79 issue of Change magazine:

    Nobody understands exactly how UECU skidded into its crisis. Some say it unwisely continued to invest money and energy in the expansion of the University Without Walls, disregarding competition from traditional colleges and universities that had seized upon the UWW example to introduce similar individualized undergraduate programs at less cost to students. Others think the UECU spent too much money on central administration. Or grew too rapidly. Or that its leaders allowed their idealism to carry UECU with all its leakiness and good intentions unprepared into a decade when accountability would be the watchword. Others insist that there would have been no crisis if the embarrassing bankruptcy action had not been filled. One of the more plausible explanations suggests that the leaders of UECU, successful as innovators, simply ever discovered a form of management that would have guided the growth of the experimental programs they invented [5, p. 20].

While this statement lacks the factual support and specifics required for a fully adequate explanation, it's probably accurate as far as it goes. For instance, a serious disruption to UECU operations around 1976 was caused by problems concerning financial aid. As Kirkhorn points out, competition was growing -- especially from public colleges and universities that could offer similar programs at less cost to students. The UECU was a private institution, without tax subsidies for its endowment, trying to attract a largely disadvantaged, adult student body. Federal financial aid was the lifeblood of their UWW operations but their decentralized administrative structures made control and accountability extremely difficult. Setting up a fully professionalized financial aid office on each campus was hard enough; coordinating all these new operations through UECU central must have been an administrative nightmare.

Hispanic International University in Houston was one of the programs that clearly lost control; UWW/Berkeley was another. Because of the former's commitment to the largely poor, Chicano population it served, there was a tendency to start students in the program while still trying to clear up the financial aid paperwork. Sometimes it did not get cleared up in time; sometimes it did not get cleared up at all (several years' figures were disputed by the Office of Education). The amount of financial aid finally received was not enough to cover the number of students actually enrolled and in need to assistance.

Internal correspondence at the time reports that "the present system has caused strain for the University and, in some cases, created serious problems for students" [7]. Hispanic International had to appeal openly to the UECU for help, but their situation was probably not unique. Idealistic faculty and social activist administrators were simply not likely to share the bureaucratic mindset needed to ride herd on the paperwork demands of the federal financial aid system. In time, these systems would be worked out. The UECU called in the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick, and Mitchell to straighten out the financial situation in Houston and make general recommendations for administrative belt-tightening [3]. The number of new UWWs coming on line around that same time, however, caused a severe cash flow crisis for the UECU, some administrative breakdown, and finally, a temporary suspension of federal financial assistance to UECU students.

There are many other examples of how the general problems that Kirkhorn reports played out in practice. As the UECU Institutional Self Study of 1984 points out, the funding climate had also begun to change in the mid-seventies. Funds grew tighter as priorities shifted. The U.S. Office of Education, for instance, notified the Union that, after five years of demonstration grants, it was shifting its emphasis to individual institutions [8, p.21]. The combination of internal turbulence and a shifting external climate had profound effects on the UECU and its UWW programs.

In 1976, idealism gave way to pragmatism, as Sam Baskin turned the presidency of the UECU over to his Vice President for Planning and Development, King Cheek. Cheek faced not only a declining UECU membership, forcing a rate reduction from $4,000 to $2,500 per year, but declining enrollments, cash flow problems, and before long, the bankruptcy suit as well. After that, the Union's candidacy for accreditation status was retracted by the North Central Association.

For several years, the UECU simply struggled to survive. To the surprise of many, it did survive: While there is no clearly marked date on which the UECU could be said to have begun the turn-around, there were signs as early as mid-1981 that the UECU was firmly committed to a number of courses of action which, if successful, would lead away from its downward plunge . . . [8, p. 21]

These actions included administrative reorganization under a new President, Robert Conley; the closing of some weaker programs -- including a phasing out of the affiliate UWW programs; a successful appeal for alumni support; new leadership; and nearly two million dollars in federal grant support from the Department of Education. These turned the tide and in 1985, under the strong leadership of the Board of Trustees with Ronald Williams as Chair, the UECU finally received its accreditation from the North Central Association.

However, it was now called the Union Institute. And it was no longer a consortium but a University, focused on its own programs and students. While it maintains its UWW programs in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Miami , as well as its home base in Cincinnati it shed the UWW name, designating them simply Academic Centers within its College of Undergraduate Studies. Its ties to the other UWWs across the country were similarly shed.

The Need for Renewed Research

In light of its crisis, it is understandable -- though regrettable -- that the UECU's original commitment to research got sidetracked along the line somewhere. As early as 1976, the UECU felt compelled to reformulate its mission in the face of clearly altered circumstances: "Consortium activity, once the major focus of UECU, became de-emphasized as UECU sought to fulfill its role as change agent through its demonstration programs" [8, p. 18].

The Consortium's original mission centered on applied research and publications. But program development gradually came to define the focus of applied research, and few publications were ever produced. When Sam Baskin left the presidency to assume the directorship of the UECU's Goodwin Watson Institute, some suggested that those applied research and publication functions be lodged there. Internal UECU memos from the period of 76-77 propose that student interns be placed in member institutions to develop programs, self studies, financial analyses, models, and so forth -- perhaps on a regional basis. After the financial crisis hit, we could find no more mention of those proposals, and the dearth of published research continued. The new emphasis with the UECU fell squarely on the need to manage the "demonstration programs" -- the UWW units and Union Graduate School -- owned and operated by the Union itself. As the UECU's administrative crisis deepened and its cash flow constricted, the collaborative model of research proved especially untenable, given the scarcity of funds for travel. The UECU was preoccupied with its own survival and research assumed a lesser priority.

The independent UWW programs, to varying degrees, had been similarly engaged in survival activities from the outset. They had to battle for acceptance on their host campuses, recruit and retain a new student clientele that their Student Affairs Offices often continued to ignore, establish their academic credibility, develop standards for individualized degrees and prior learning credits, and so on. Research was thus generally accorded a lower priority even as the experiment picked up steam.

The overwhelming priority for all these units was their students. They were, after all, the raison d'etre for the whole UWW movement. They were conspicuously there in an advising-intensive program like UWW, lodged in institutions that were for the most part not supportive of adults, minorities, or other non-traditional students. They also paid the bills and, at public institutions, provided political clout essential to program survival.

The preoccupation with students and with their own survival drove a shift towards less traditional faculty at most UWWs. Advising skills and administrative ability were often valued over publication histories. In some institutions, the UWW staff looked as though it belonged in student affairs rather than academic affairs. The doctoral degree was not always required of new hires, their degrees were typically in very different fields, and the programs themselves often had no academic departmental base, reporting directly to an upper level administrator in Continuing Education or Academic Affairs. Neither were the teaching staff typically in tenure track positions. In all these ways, the call to research was muted.

There was also, perhaps, an implicit ideological bias against publication activities in some of these programs: some saw research and teaching as competing, even opposing pursuits, as they often tend to be at large universities. The challenge to the comprehensive research university thus continued to define the experimental college movement.

In short, the original research emphasis of the Consortium presidents was not generally shared by the member UWWs, and was de-emphasized even within the Union itself as time went on. The UWW experiment became the victim of its own success.

As a result, there is today a paucity of published material on this otherwise successful enterprise. A recent ERIC computer search turned up only 15 entries on UECU and 87 on UWW since 1966. Several of the entries overlap, leaving only a half a dozen on the UECU itself. About a dozen UWW entries refer to the generic concept instead of to actual programs; almost a dozen more are general surveys of degree options for adults ("Become a College Graduate Without Leaving Home", etc.) of little value to researchers. That leaves little for scholarly rumination.

The remaining publications are predominantly single program descriptions. Like family photos, these are valuable as evidence of AUWWs' family resemblances over the years; but they tend to portray only one stage in an ongoing development, providing data without history. They could become useful in comparison studies with other UWWs at the time, or in conjunction with current studies of those programs. They are just fragments now.

There are, fortunately, several more scholarly efforts on the list: a few studies on institutional attitudes toward UWW programs, one on relationships with student affairs, one on the economics of alternative education, and another on appropriate information systems. There are studies on participating faculty -- their attitudes, roles, and development; and on participating students -- their attitudes, characteristics, and outcomes. There are one or two discussions of the philosophy behind UWW, and a few formal evaluations. There are few studies which examine more than one institution or the overall UWW movement; there are few which attempt to comprehend the significance of its challenge to American higher education, none which examine it in depth.

A search for dissertations pertaining to the University Without Walls is hardly more encouraging: there are only nine that mention UWW in their titles, only two since 1976 [as of 1990]. While these have scholarly value and there are probably other dissertations that touch on UWW without mentioning it in their titles, the subject remains largely unexplored. The only UWW unit actively engaged over the years in research and publication efforts appears to be the UWW at the University of Minnesota (now called “First College”). It sponsored several of the more scholarly articles noted above, and may have developed instruments worthy of examination or replication by other researchers so that good comparative data might be made available.

It is unfortunate that research interest in UWW and the UECU slackened once UECU's problems began in 1976, since most of the impact of individual UWW programs on their host campuses probably occurred after the national organization had waned: the years since 1976 represent not only most of these programs' histories, but the period in which student demographics began to change most noticeably. To understand how American higher education both generated and responded to the influx of adult students -- including the development of satellite centers and programs in the workplace -- the role of UWW as a national phenomenon must be understood.

It is a critical piece in the puzzle, but how it fits is not yet clear. We don't know whether the institutions hosting UWW units became the major centers serving adult clienteles or whether competing institutions, free to borrow from the model as they saw fit, devised more marketable and profitable approaches and so took the lead. We see some evidence for the latter. We don't know if the original promise of cost savings was ever realized, or even how to measure productivity in such programs. We don't know how the educational outcomes of the UWW approach, centered on mentoring relationships, compare either to traditional undergraduate education or to adult-oriented continuing education programs. We don't know -- and must find out -- the principles of good practice established by these programs. What we do know is that the existence of fifty roughly equivalent programs, operating in a wide variety of academic institutions, provides opportunities for comparative studies that are exceedingly rich.

It is an historic irony that such an ambitious experiment was able to generate so little published research. It would be regrettable were that irony allowed to persist: the founding generation of educators may not be available much longer and they are likely the best references we have as to how all these experiments, separate and together, played out. As much as we need to document their individual recollections, we need even more urgently to recapture their vision and their wisdom as higher education enters a new period of turbulence fed by technology and competitive pressures.

And so this paper is a call to action. We need to document the history and assess the impacts of the UWW experiment. We need to learn from it. This is more than a matter of historical interest. The collective history of UWW would be a treasury of ideas and experience on how to manage innovation in higher education. And it would be a much needed beacon of confident idealism in an academic world that’s losing faith in its past and worrying about its future. Higher education centered on adults on and off college campuses is often seen as academic opportunism in the face of changing demographics. At times it is. That wasn't always the case and needn’t be now. The commitment to empowering people -- all people -- through higher learning, the legacy of idealism that the UECU and UWW represented, should not be forgotten.


1. Eldridge; this theme is examined and corroborated throughout her paper.


1. Baskin, S., and E.F. Hallenbeck. "University Without Walls: Nontraditional Program of Undergraduate Learning", Compact (Oct. 1972) pp. 21-25.

2. Buchman, W. and E.F. Hallenbeck. Internal memo to UWW Directors. July 30, 1973.

3. Cheek, King. "Application for Federal Support Under Title III. Basic Institutional Development Program: Strengthening Academic and Administrative Capabilities of the UECU National University." November 1, 1976.

4. Eldridge J. A Historical Study of the Relationship Between the Philosophy of John Dewey and the Early Progressive Colleges: An Investigation of the Role of Science. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1984.

5. Kirkhorn, M. "Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities: Back from the Brink". Change Magazine, (April 1979) pp. 18-21.

6. Rudolph, F. The American College and University. New York:Vintage Press, 1962. 7. "Status Report on Hispanic International University, 1976", to the UECU Board of Trustees.

8. The Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities. Institutional Self Study, Vol. 1. Cincinnati, 1984. 9. The Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities. UWW: A First Year Report. Yellow Springs, 1972.

Revised, Rick Hendra - November, 2002