New post: The New American University


First month of job freedom has been great so far. I spent a couple of weeks in Redondo Beach, a quiet beach town filled with retired and military people, which is basically the perfect place to get creative work done. (Also teaching myself how to rollerskate, which is hard! Well, more scary than hard. But scary!)

I just published a lengthy post about Arizona State University, which is the anti-Ivy League: a school that significantly improved its rankings by increasing its acceptance rate (86%) and accessibility.

The idea that prestige is established through exclusivity is so deeply engrained in my mind that finding a strong counterexample really broke my brain. It has implications not just for those who are interested in university reform, but anyone thinking about building cultural institutions, status games, or networks.

I spent way more time than I'd like to admit digging into their model to understand how it works. Enjoy!

P.S. I’m experimenting with a lighterweight newsletter format, which also means doing this obnoxious thing where I include an excerpt but not the full post, because I send email through Substack but host my own blog, and I don’t like having my writing live in two places. Do you hate it? Does it suck? Let me know.

I had the pleasure of stumbling upon the work of Michael Crow, Arizona State University’s president, earlier this year, and I so enjoyed his thoughts on knowledge production that I immediately wondered how his philosophy would translate to ASU as an organization. Turns out, President Crow was many steps ahead of me and not only co-authored a book about it in 2015, Designing the New American University, but has been leading the charge in higher education to rethink the modern university.

If you were like me, applying to college over a decade ago, you might remember ASU’s reputation as a party school for hot people. In 2002, Crow was appointed ASU’s 16th president, and he set about both developing and implementing a vision for reform. Today, ASU ranks as a top 100 research university worldwide [1], and has managed to do so while increasing affordable access to higher education.

ASU is an example of what President Crow and his colleague, William Dabars, call the “New American University”, a model that they hope other public research universities will emulate. There are a bunch of interesting aspects to this model, but the most striking, in my view, has been to throw away the Ivy League playbook, rejecting the idea that a university’s prestige is defined by whom they exclude. Instead, ASU has significantly improved their rankings while accepting and graduating more students.

Given the widespread critique of academia, especially within tech, I was surprised that, after asking around, none of my peers had come across ASU as a case study for reform, despite its reputation among university administrators. So I’m summarizing what I’ve learned about ASU here in hopes that it might help others learn from their efforts. [2]