The University of Nidge: An Inspiring Model for the Future of Higher Education

The University of Nidge (not to be confused with Nigde University in Turkey) is unlike any school that you have ever seen. It is small, distinct, deeply committed to both the liberal arts and social impact, and it specializes in nurturing human agency and a sense of purpose and drive in life. It is strictly an undergraduate school, doesn’t take part in the federal financial aid program, and never pursued regional accreditation. Yet, it has a waiting list every year, current students and graduates are delighted with their experience, graduates have no problem getting their unaccredited degree accepted by top graduate schools, and the list of alumni would be the envy of some of the most known and respected Universities in the world.

In the words of the first and current President and CNO (Chief Nudgeon Officer), Dr. Franklin Tesla Edison (his parents had high hopes for him, didn’t they) explained, “We are not about courses, credits, degrees, credentials and programs with persnickety policies and overbearing professorial platitudes. We are not about compliance, bean counting, and inside politics. We are not about imitating what a thousand other colleges have done. We are a haven for the intellectual life married to social good and impact; creativity and innovation; competence combined with convictions, courage, and character; people who want to discover, create and share truth, beauty, goodness, and unity with the world. We are about helping people discover and nurture the gifts, talents, passions, and interests that will allow them to flourish and make a unique and valuable contribution to the world. And while we recognize that there are significant challenges and problems in the world, our motto comes from a quote often attributed to Dr. Martin Luther, ‘Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.’ We are a community of hopeful and engaged intellectuals with a bent toward curiosity, a love of learning, creation, action and impact.

In contrast to schools that boast 100+ undergraduate majors, Nudge sticks with eight plus a twist.

Their eight core majors are:

  • Bachelor of Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship,
  • Bachelor of Global & International Studies,
  • Bachelor of Humanities in Action (with a focus upon digital culture),
  • Bachelor of Computer Engineering & Design Thinking,
  • Bachelor of Biomedical Science & Human-Centered Design,
  • Bachelor of Space & Future Studies,
  • Bachelor in Economics (with a focus on econometrics) & Analytics
  • Bachelor of Heuristics, Design & Technology (with a fascinating partial focus on biomimicry).

Each major consists of three parts:

  1. Socratic Seminars – These are rich, small group discussion around critical “texts”, facilitated by a tutor/professor whose primary task is Socratic questioning, helping them to extract as much meaning as possible from the texts.
  2. Core Competency Challenges – This involves a series 8-10 competency-based digital badges that each identify a core area of knowledge or skill in that major. Students earn the badges by solving some sort of authentic problem or completing a project or challenge related to that competency. A variety of tutorials and guided resources are available to students but there are no formal lectures or class sessions for this part of the major. Students gather twice a week with a cohort of others who are working on the same challenges to collaborate with one another, and there is a dedicated tutor/professor for each competency-badge, available as a guide and resource.
  3. Experiential Learning Labs & Internships – Every program includes a series of intense hand-on experiences ranging from novel lab experiences to work and service in the “real world.” As part of this, all students participate in extended, hands-on, applied work in their areas of interest. Unlike some internships, students are connected with organizations that agree to engage them in core work (not just filing papers) and they experience being an integrated part of different organizations. Finding suitable partners can be a challenge, but Nidge found its niche in getting their students engaged with some of the most exciting, innovative and socially minded startups doing work in everything from international humanitarian efforts to privatized space travel, sociopolitical gamification to personalized medicine, medical research on aging to technology startups focusing on online identity management.

Now for the twist. Every student at Nudge finishes with two majors, one from the list above and a second that is certainly unlike anything that you’ve seen at another University. Technically, it isn’t a major, it is a “mission.” When students apply the The University of Nudge, they must include a proposal for a 4-year mission (although they can appeal to finish a mission after year two and pursue a second one). This starts with a few simple words, “I am on a mission to…” The students must frame a statement that describes an area where their passion and interests meet a real need in the world. Then the students propose how they will:

  • develop the knowledge, skill and experience to pursue (and hopefully complete) that mission,
  • their intent and plan to build an international personal network of connections with people and organizations who can help them with that mission,
  • a series of initial action steps, and
  • a statement of how they will monitor their progress along with the intent to form a personal board of directors by the end of their first year at Nidge (They must secure at least 2 of 4-5 board members as an admission requirement).

Many prospective students take part in a summer mission design camp that helps them frame such a mission/major, and the camp draws many who don’t even intend to apply. For those who go to Nidge, students will pursue this mission, provide a monthly update/written report to their board of directors, and meet with their personal board of directors quarterly. At the end of each year, there is a mission festival where students display and share about their mission to others in the University and the surrounding community. This event is open to the public and is well worth a visit, even if you need to fly around the world to get there. It is truly incredible to witness so many thoughtful and mission-minded young people tackling some of the largest problems in the world.

The other brilliant part is that mission/majors lead to careers for over 90% of the graduates (not including those who go straight to graduate school), some through innovative startups, and others through businesses that want people who show this sort of self-direction, unconventional thinking, skill and commitment. Then there is the case of students who get so caught up in their mission that it takes a life of its own, turns into a business or life calling, and leads them to drop out of school to pursue it full-time. Instead of labeling such students as drop-outs, the student’s Board of Directors reviews their work and they are issued a single major diploma from the University of Nidge. Such people are not considered “drop-outs” they are “dive ins” and the community celebrates their achievement as much (or sometimes more) than those who go the standard four years.

The University of Nidge is not for everyone. In fact, they only accept a maximum of 50 ( out of about 150 applicants) into each major annually. If you get accepted, there is a healthy endowment to make tuition reasonable for everyone, and some of the experiential portions of the majors come with salaries/stipends that also help students cover costs.

By the way, don’t think The University of Nidge is all about only accepting people with the highest GPAs and test scores. They accepted wonderfully lopsided students, students who display wildly different types of genius. Ask anyone at Nidge about this and you are likely to hear they reference Einstein’s alleged quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” They are looking for curious, committed young people who ware willing to do good and work hard, to embrace this outside-the-box form of higher education, and who truly do have a compelling mission.

For those who don’t get accepted, Nidge Open University just launched online, which essentially guides people through the process of designing their personal mission/major and pursuing it independently. If a person successfully completes a mission, meeting all the requirements at the University of Nidge, that person is eligible for a University of Nudge diploma designating their mission and accomplishment. So, regardless of your background or context, you too can become a Nidgeon!

Before you start turning to Google to look up this amazing school, I should probably explain that “nidge” is Russian for “nowhere.” Yes, unfortunately this school doesn’t really exist, at least not yet. 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

Posted in blog, education, education reform, higher education

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is the author of Missional Moonshots, Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of education, and a frequent keynote speaker and consultant on topics related to educational innovation and entrepreneurship, futures in education, and the intersection of education and digital culture. Opinions expressed here do not reflect those of his primary employer(s).

2 thoughts on “The University of Nidge: An Inspiring Model for the Future of Higher Education

  1. iainmacl

    Nidge or Nudge? Pity too that ‘Nidge’ has such connotations in Ireland (Love/Hate TV series) 😉

    • Bernard Bull Post author

      That is always a risk with an international audience/outlet :-). I understand that “etale” has connotations in other parts of the world as well.

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