Thoreau College: An experiment in holistic higher education

Thoreau College is working to create immersive, impactful, personalized higher education that is also financially accessible. The college currently has academic courses in regenerative agriculture, writing composition, political philosophy and visual arts.

For the past months, I’ve had a fellowship at a microcollege called Thoreau College in Viroqua, Wisconsin where I’m living and taking classes with artists and activists from ages 18 to 46. Thoreau College is working to create immersive, impactful, personalized higher education that is also financially accessible. The college currently has academic courses in regenerative agriculture, writing composition, political philosophy and visual arts. In addition to internships and classes, each student and faculty participates in self-governance of all college programs including admissions, outreach, curriculum design, operating the business aspect of a greenhouse called Thoreau’s Garden and stewarding all administrative elements of the community.

Thoreau College is currently hosting a range of programs including the Metamorphosis Year, a full-time program for young adults seeking to challenge and develop themselves through engagement with academics, labor, community, art and nature. The college is also organizing a three-week summer program for fifteen people that will include a week-long farm stay and an intensive workshop as an introduction to permaculture.

Jacob Hundt founded Thoreau College in 2015 and now serves as executive director, as a board member and as a faculty member leading courses in literature, philosophy and sustainable agriculture. Hundt grew up on a dairy farm and helped found a Waldorf school called Youth Initiative High School when he was a teenager. He then spent years learning at Deep Springs College, a microcollege established in 1917, the American University in Bulgaria, and the University of Chicago Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences, earning a bachelor’s degree in History and a master’s degree in Social Sciences. He then returned to his hometown to found Thoreau College and the Driftless Folk School. Thoreau College is now part of The Folk School Alliance, a network of over 70 schools across North America dedicated to the preservation and passing on of traditional skills. This more accessible and personalized alternative education model has been spreading in the United States.

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