Offering classes in woodworking and carpentry basics, as well as computer programming, organic agriculture and graphic design, the Saxifrage School in Pittsburgh, PA calls itself a “higher education laboratory working to lower costs, re-think the campus, and reconcile disciplines.”
What makes the school special is the way it re-thinks a traditional college campus, thinking outside the box. Instead of the traditional model with an expensive infrastructure to own and operate, Saxifrage defines the school's neighborhood as the campus, or as they call it, a "nomad campus.” This means that students study, eat, sleep and attend classes in pre-existing spaces within a walkable geography in a small city neighborhood.
The campus structure addresses a number of issues. According to the school, by holding classes in underutilized spaces in a specific city neighborhood such as churches, bars, museums, non-profits or cafes, the Saxifrage School revitalizes spaces otherwise unoccupied for long periods of time. Mutually beneficial partnerships between the owners of these spaces and the school help to maintain their structures through rental payment, volunteer support or other arrangement.
Tuition costs are also much less without high operating costs and building expenses. Students should be able to graduate with much less debt. Saxifrage says the "nomad campus" model will be able to eliminate the majority of building costs and offer a yearly tuition price of $5000.
One challenge for Saxifrage, according to The Wall Street Journal, is the need for accreditation. The accreditation process can be cumbersome and costly, but the school hopes to achieve it and offer degrees in five years, which together could make the school’s students eligible for federal tuition aid.
Currently, two woodworking courses are offered: Woodshop Primer and Box-Building covers the use of a woodshop's tools and lets students practice their skills building a box. The box can be a beehive, a toolbox, planter box, crate, or whatever the student desires; and Carpentry: Structures, which teaches the basics behind designing and constructing walls, floors, roofs and small buildings. This course features hands-on experience, and teaches a student the history, philosophy and practice of residential construction and sustainable carpentry methods.
The carpentry Instructor is Wade Caruso who has worked as a carpenter for over 10 years. Caruso has experience in sustainable construction techniques, timber framing and solar panel installation, and specializes in fabrication projects using salvaged materials.
Tim Cook is the founding director and CEO. Cook directs the work and vision of the Saxifrage School, researches new directions in higher education, writes and speaks on higher education, and plans new programs.
The Saxifrage School says its academic philosophy is centered on productive inquiry, with a goal of reconciling theory and practice and preserving students’ integrity by valuing the creative utility of each. Graduates of Saxifrage will hopefully leave as seasoned thinkers, skilled producers, engaged citizens and capable agents of change.