The “Middlebury Model”

At September’s Alumni Leadership Conference, the final question I received following my address and lengthy Q&A session with about 200 of our leading volunteers was “when will Middlebury become a university?” “NEVER!” I answered, emphatically. You could almost feel the relief among those present. Despite providing what I had thought were numerous explanations of what “becoming the first truly global liberal arts college” means—and what it doesn’t—during the past three years, I realized that, despite the good intentions, I had been less effective than I had hoped.

This was confirmed when several volunteers came up to the podium after my address and told me to transcribe what I had just said and “send it out to everyone” because “this is not well understood; yet, when one gets it, it makes great sense.” The main question for many was, “How can we go global and still have the liberal arts college in the Champlain Valley we love so much and wish to support?” Of course, this kind of misunderstanding has repercussions on a number of levels, including the ability of those very volunteers to explain today’s Middlebury as they engage classmates and others on behalf of the College. With this in mind, I’d like to explain the “Middlebury Model”—along with the exciting opportunities it presents to our students and the entire institution.

Middlebury is and always will be a residential liberal arts college, forever aspiring to do even better what it has been doing so well for 209 years. This was affirmed in the College’s latest strategic plan and is central to our thinking as we contemplate any new programs or changes to existing ones. Throughout much of our history, Middlebury has been more than a residential liberal arts college. For almost a century, the College has developed a number of graduate and nondegree programs that serve distinct cohorts of students, and many of those programs also serve our undergraduates in significant ways. None of these programs operates on our campus during the regular academic year, and therefore none of them takes away from our mission and the experience of our 2,400 undergraduates. Rather, these programs enhance our undergraduates’ education and serve to position the College in a unique and enviable standing among its peers and within higher education at a most opportune time. It is this unique combination that we are now calling the Middlebury Model.

So, what is the Middlebury Model, and what are those things that build upon and around our undergraduate liberal arts core? There are our 10 world-renowned, intensive summer Language Schools; our 8 Schools Abroad, which now operate through partnerships with universities in 34 cities on four continents; the Bread Loaf School of English, which is the largest graduate program in English literature in the country; the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the first (founded in 1926) and most prestigious conference of its kind; and now the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a graduate school of 750 students that offers professional MA degree programs in international policy and management, nonproliferation studies, translation and interpretation, linguistics, and language education.

The combination of these programs, with the undergraduate college at the core, represents a unique institutional model that should not be mistaken for a university. The size, nature, and feel of the College remains small, intimate, and caring, focused on the undergraduate student with a definitive spirit that runs through our 209-year history. At universities, undergraduate students compete with graduate students for the faculty’s time and attention—and usually lose. This is not surprising: graduate students provide important professional support to university faculty in both the time they spend with undergraduates and the work they do as research assistants.

Though the College has developed a number of graduate and nondegree special programs since 1915, it has done so in a way that preserves the centrality of undergraduate education and ensures that our undergraduate students remain at the center of attention. That is, none of the nonundergraduate programs alters the special environment we have created for our students over two centuries: the Language Schools, the Schools Abroad, and the Bread Loaf School of English, all of which award graduate degrees, operate either during the summer months, or far away from campus, either in Monterey, California, or at 34 sites around the world. There is no time when our undergraduate students are in session and must compete with graduate students for our faculty’s attention or campus facilities.

The Middlebury Model is also unique in the way in which our undergraduates can enrich their education by taking advantage of the College’s graduate and special programs. Our 10 intensive summer Language Schools enroll 1,450 students each summer; approximately 10 percent are Middlebury undergraduates, most of them rising juniors who are preparing to study abroad during their junior year. The intensive immersion summer program covers a full year of college course work in seven or nine weeks, and prepares our students well for learning a new language and culture.

Our Schools Abroad enroll about 550 students each year. Approximately 450 of those students are undergraduates. (The rest are graduate students pursuing MA degrees in French, German, Italian, Russian, or Spanish.) Among the undergraduates, 58 percent are from Middlebury and 42 percent are from other leading American colleges and universities. The non-Middlebury students say they choose Middlebury programs because of their rigor, the intensive immersion approach to learning, and their proven effectiveness.

Our Bread Loaf School of English (BLSE) enrolls nearly 500 students each summer. Currently, no undergraduates study at BLSE, though there are routinely 25–30 recent Middlebury (BA) graduates enrolled at the School of English each year. In addition, many of the 2,100 MA degree holders teach in secondary schools across the country. Many are doing groundbreaking work in inner-city and poor, rural high schools, and often send their very best students to Middlebury, serving as incredibly valuable, unofficial admissions officers. The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference awards approximately 20 fellowships each summer to Middlebury rising seniors who have shown great promise in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writing so they can attend the 11-day conference.

And finally, there is Monterey, which will become a legal part of the College on June 30, 2010. Come next year, Monterey will, first and foremost, serve a population of approximately 750 graduate students from around the world, but, because it operates 2,600 miles away, it will not interfere with our undergraduate program in Vermont. It will, however, offer our undergraduates a range of opportunities that will enhance their undergraduate academic experiences at Middlebury, something no other liberal arts college can offer its students.

Within the next two to three years, we expect to offer several “4+1” dual-degree programs that will allow Middlebury undergraduates to complete their BA and MA degrees in five years in a number of international policy related areas. In addition, a number of Middlebury juniors will be able to spend a semester in Monterey to take graduate-level courses in areas that complement their undergraduate studies—for example, students who major in international politics and economics, international studies, and environmental studies will be able to take courses in the School of International Policy and Management. Similarly, students who are majoring in a foreign language, or those who are interested in linguistics, might very well spend a semester at Monterey and take courses in linguistics, language education, and, for the truly advanced students, translation and interpretation. And students from a wide range of majors who are interested in the scientific or policy aspects of biological, chemical, and nuclear nonproliferation will be able to study at the Institute’s renowned James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

What we will not see following the integration of Monterey into Middlebury is a change in our focus on undergraduate education. Our model is designed to encourage the development of outstanding graduate and nondegree programs that can serve their respective student populations without sacrificing the focus of our core enterprise—the undergraduate, liberal arts college in Vermont. In fact, the model allows us to reinforce that focus while creating new opportunities for our undergraduate students’ four-year experience.

In addition to the increased curricular opportunities for our students, we will also see the benefits of a larger and more interconnected global alumni network. If we view our alumni network as the graduates of all our programs, it would grow from the 28,000 who currently make up our living alumni of the undergraduate college, to more than 45,000. This larger number includes the 8,500 advanced degree holders from the Language Schools; the nearly 2,100 MA degree recipients from the Bread Loaf School of English; and Monterey’s 8,400 alumni. In addition, more than 25,000 individuals have attended the Language Schools as nondegree students, and many, including myself—I attended the School of Russian for two summers prior to joining the Middlebury faculty in 1984—feel great loyalty to the College for the opportunities the Language School experience made possible.

The expanded alumni network is another example of how Middlebury differs from all of its peers: The College remains committed to providing the personalized, undergraduate experience one expects at the very best liberal arts colleges in the country, while, at the same time, providing some of the benefits one usually sees only at a much larger institution—benefits that redound significantly to our students academically, professionally, and socially.

The Middlebury Model, then, is very different from the traditional university model. It allows the College to become the global liberal arts college for the 21st century—to prepare our students for the century’s big challenges—while, at the same time, preserving and strengthening its core, the undergraduate liberal arts program, in ways that no other liberal arts college can match.


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  1. […] for all of the United States, and of the world.” Falk is, I think, explicitly rejecting the Middlebury Model of a global liberal arts college with facilities and programs all around the world. Reread these […]

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