Background and Goals

Scholarium Background and Goals

Higher education is one of the great gifts of modern life. Postsecondary education offers the opportunity to drink in the humanities, arts, and sciences under the guidance of expert scholars. This meeting of minds can cultivate lifelong interests and passions, broadened horizons, and, for the lucky, fulfilling careers. Colleges and universities serve as both repositories of knowledge and engines of advancement, concentrating scholars and experts in dedicated institutions where learning can thrive.

At higher levels, universities provide rigorous, in-depth training for budding researchers across fields, from the sciences to the humanities. Doctoral programs teach future PhDs how to conduct research, write, and impart knowledge to students. Each new dissertation offers an original addition to the total sum of human knowledge. Our higher education system in the United States is world-class largely thanks to our century-old tradition of specialized doctoral programs housed in heavyweight research universities, both private and public. 

But higher education in America has entered a period of change and flux, even crisis. As tuitions skyrocket and administrators come to outnumber professors at many universities, the ranks of new students are declining, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, a culture of “credentialism” has distorted the mission of many colleges and universities, shifting the emphasis away from sheer learning for its own sake, toward a consumerist model of providing students with a valuable product: the degree or credential that facilitates access to high-status social circles, plumb jobs, and security in an insecure age. Students in credentialing-focused institutions often miss out on the richness of a true education, which depends on life-changing encounters with challenging ideas, texts, and traditions of inquiry on their own terms, led by experts who love what they do.

In the midst of these challenges to the mission and model of higher education, research universities continue to produce tens of thousands of new PhDs each year, even as the number of traditional academic jobs shrinks. Partly as a result of this imbalance, the majority of instructors in colleges and universities around the country are no longer tenured or tenure-track, but are instead contingent faculty on short-term contracts. Finding an academic job is becoming increasingly difficult, even forbidding, for growing numbers of talented, passionate, and inquisitive young PhD holders. This growing precariousness takes a toll on students, since their teachers often lack the time and resources to fully invest in their jobs. Yet with all these challenges, the four-year college or university still remains the preeminent institution for creating, sharing, and passing down knowledge in our 21st-century society.

This is where Scholarium enters the picture. Scholarium is a collaborative venture that provides an alternative venue for the sharing and conveyance of expert academic knowledge beyond, but complementing, the formal university setting. By recruiting our teachers widely, we take advantage of a fantastic resource: the growing reserve in the United States of highly trained experts with PhDs who are eager to teach and passionate about their subjects. Our teachers may be professors or postdocs, independent scholars or recent graduates. Regardless of their position in the academic hierarchy, they come equipped with deep reservoirs of knowledge, a love for teaching, and an eagerness for the opportunity to teach classes on the subjects that move them. 

Highlighting the complementary role Scholarium plays in relation to formal higher education, we do not offer credentials or degrees. At Scholarium, students study the subjects that excite them, with experts who are keen to guide the explorations of self-motivated students. While rooted firmly in the 21st century and its unique contingencies, we also look to the example of many earlier universities, whose origins were often simple, organic, informal gatherings of independent scholars and groups of motivated students. Inspired by this example yet adapted for the present day, we aim for the cultivation of learning and curiosity for their own sake, in a community centered on highly trained — and credentialed! — experts who facilitate lectures, conversation, and learning. 

About Our Name

The Greek root of the word “school” denotes spare time, leisure, and conversation, implying that school in its truest form emerges from the free association of individual people who want to think, converse, and study for their own sake. The name “Scholarium” reflects this vision and brings it into the 21st century for both online and — when circumstances permit — in-person education.

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