The Most Interesting College of the Day – Make School – June 15

Make School states that they are redesigning higher education for the 21st century. They want a college education to be relevant for the modern economy and accessible to students of all backgrounds. They predict a sustainable and scalable model of college can be built upon the following pillars:

  • Combining the liberal arts with computing education in a bachelor’s granting program
  • Providing relevant and engaging education through real-world projects
  • Uniting students from a broad socioeconomic range who possess grit (as measured by non-traditional metrics) and a passion for impact and innovation
  • Ensuring students are the core focus of the institution
  • Systemically aligning incentives of the institution with students through Income Share Agreements (tuition paid as a percentage of salary once employed)

They explain that “Make” stands for the diverse individuals who constitute their community and “School” represents the lifelong learning of the community – unburdened with the context of a “college” or “university”. Their charter states their public benefit: “To create avenues of upward mobility for students of all backgrounds, empowering such students to contribute to society through science and technology innovation.”

The first classes at Make School took place in 2015 at a home in Palo Alto. High school students would attend for 2 months over the summer in an attempt to build and launch a product to the app store. Students did not pay for the education, instead they shared revenues from their product which ensured everyone’s incentives were aligned.

From the two founders of Maker School – “We attended Montessori schools, international schools, schools with no grades or tests, public schools, prep schools, and 2 of the most distinguished universities in the world. We studied across 5 countries and 8 cultures before meeting in computer science class in our Silicon Valley high school. Once we learned our long-term goals, our short-term came in to focus. Knowing why we were learning showed us what we should be learning. This perspective has proven to be a core principle of our pedagogy, flipping not just the classroom but the entire foundation of an education.

The dilemma that we faced (now being faced by millions of iGen youth around the world) was that exposure to this new paradigm made the traditional model of stockpiling knowledge in hope of future use feel impractical, unfocused, and disempowering. The disconnect between our university education and purpose-driven learning left us feeling wholly disengaged. We spent much of our time in our dorm rooms, diligently absorbing and applying knowledge and skills we deemed relevant to our long-term ambitions. Eventually, we chose to leave our respective universities.

Our initiative to build educational programs for our peers was born out of the desire to share this secret we had discovered. Our students told us Make School was the first time they had felt fully engaged in their education. That they learned more in two months than in two years of studying computer science in college. That they had finally found a community to which they belonged.

Our students were the visionaries that inspired us to experiment with building a new model for higher education. We’ve spent the last four years learning through application and research in an attempt to answer two fundamental questions. If we were to go back to college, what would our ideal experience be? What do we imagine college will look like in 20 years?”

Make School formally started in 2017 and has educated over 2,000 in-person students and >1,000,000 students online. Students have built thousands of apps reaching tens of millions of people; from medical solutions to women’s empowerment communities to simple games.

The majority of their students come from low to mid-income families, almost 50% identify as underrepresented minority students. Their graduates earn an average starting salary of $110k at organizations like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and top startups.

They seek to build their organization with only two primary principles. Secondary principles exist, though they are explicitly subordinate to the two primary ones.

  1. Students first
  2. A principle is only a principle if there exists a system to enforce it

As they state, “the first is self-evident, one would be hard pressed to find an institution that did not consider this a key principle. Yet institutions regularly sacrifice this principle. The importance of the second meta-principle is to ensure institutional values are upheld. Creating systems to ensure values-driven decision making will help address the core threats to organizational principles that occur with scale. Systems can implicitly prioritize values and provide decision making support to overworked team members and new hires.” Read more about their our vision.

Their culture is described in the Secret Handbook of How to Succeed at Make School.

In what may be a first, they are literally hiring their Founding President of Make School right now. This President would lead them through the final stages of accreditation and accelerate their mission to create equity in technology.

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