Free Universities

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FREE UNIVERSITIES. Rural communities have different needs and resources than urban areas, and nontraditional or alternative educational programs have been one response to the educational needs of rural people. Free universities are nontraditional education programs in rural communities that bring together people who want to teach or learn. Generally, the creators of such programs are both formal and informal community leaders and parents. The free university uses community resources and requires little or no money for students and volunteer teachers. It is based on the assumption that anyone can teach and anyone can learn. Free universities are open to everyone, are controlled locally, and can operate cost-effectively on small budgets. They emphasize flexible arrangements for instruction, original courses or curricula, interactive teaching, student-centered learning, and often an affirmation of rural values.

The free university movement began in 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley as an outgrowth of the Free Speech Movement. Many other free universities developed on college campuses across the country as a reaction to traditional education. They arose from a need to discuss social issues, a sense that learning should be community oriented, and a belief that students should be involved in their own education. Ironically, although free universities began on college campuses, they now are almost exclusively located in rural communities.


Embers, Pat, et al. The Rural and Small Town Community Education Manual. Manhattan: Kansas State University, 1980.

Sherwood, Topper. Nontraditional Education in Rural Districts. Charleston, W.Va.: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1989.

Mary DeaneSorcinelli/a. r.

See alsoCounterculture ; Education, Cooperative ; Education, Higher: Colleges and Universities ; Rural Life ; Schools, Community .

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Free Universities