Georgetown Receives $4 Million in Gifts for Higher Education Reinvention

Georgetown's Designing the Future(s) of the University initiative explores ways the university can continue to deliver a Jesuit liberal arts education in an era in which higher education faces a number of academic issues and technological disruptions.

January 22, 2015 – A $2.3 million anonymous gift and $1.7 million in alumni donations will help fund and accelerate progress in the next phase of Georgetown’s innovative project to rethink higher education.

Georgetown’s Designing the Future(s) of the University initiative, launched in 2013, aims to engage the university community in an exploration of issues facing academia and to experiment with new ways of delivering Georgetown’s signature education.

“We are trying to ask ourselves, as a university, one of the most challenging design questions of our time,” says Randall Bass, vice provost for education. “What could – and should – a transformative liberal education look like in the new context of learning and the complex challenges that face us in the near future.”

Students as Individuals

The initiative explores ways Georgetown can carry out the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, or care of the whole person, and promotes the learning and development concept of “formation,” which aims to shape students to be distinctive, well-balanced individuals.

The university will measure such qualities of student formation as well-being, resilience and empathy inside and outside of the classroom. Georgetown also has begun designing several new degree-level and course-level initiatives, including the Global Futures Curriculum Studio, which looks at ways to expand and challenge a student’s worldview.

Bass says Georgetown hopes to increase and maximize the time students spend with faculty in mentored settings, which he says creates the most powerful learning environments. The initiative is also examining how best to embrace new technology in ways that enhance depth, engagement and community.

Funded Solely Through Philanthropy

The fact that this project is funded entirely through philanthropy is a testament to the value that alumni place on their Georgetown education.”

John J. DeGioia, Georgetown President

Alumni and friends of the university have responded to the project enthusiastically.

“The fact that this project is funded entirely through philanthropy is a testament to the value that alumni place on their Georgetown education,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “These gifts, combined with donations from partner organizations, are helping the university adapt to the demands of the 21st century.”

Experiments in Non-Traditional Learning

The university has been experimenting with non-traditional learning for almost 15 years, since the creation of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship in 2000. The center focuses on both the latest technology and the full range of learning that characterizes a Georgetown education.

Since 2013, the university has expanded its teaching reach globally and created seven MOOCs through its partnership with edX. To date, the courses have provided a unique Georgetown education to more than 115,000 people around the world.

The university’s $8 million Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL), created to enrich teaching on campus through technology, has awarded over 100 projects to about 175 faculty members. The new projects have served more than 5,000 students since the initiative’s inception in 2012.

The next phase of Designing the Future(s) involves experiments with high-impact curriculum and mentored learning options to help students address some of the world’s most pressing problems. It also provides new proficiency-based degree options as well as a research and design process that students would begin in the classroom and continue working on out in the field.

An Incubator for Faculty Creativity

Georgetown’s approach to innovation combines ‘top-down’ support for experimentation with grassroots creativity from faculty and programs. This is the only combination that can work for this kind of institutional design."

Randall Bass, vice provost for education

“Georgetown’s approach to innovation combines ‘top-down’ support for experimentation with grassroots creativity from faculty and programs,” Bass says. “This is the only combination that can work for this kind of institutional design.”  

The venue for this work is a curriculum incubator space that has come to be known as the “Red House,” a small townhouse just outside Healy Gates. Teams of faculty and university leaders and students work there – often across academic and institutional boundaries – to design new kinds of degrees and credit-bearing course experiences.

Pushing Boundaries

As all universities work to adapt to the shifting landscape brought about by new technologies and financial realities, Georgetown hopes to serve as a model for other institutions in higher education.

“This generous funding will help us keep pushing the boundaries of traditional learning, building on the innovative and committed work of our faculty, and preparing students to go out in the world to be agents of positive change,” Bass says.