National School Choice Week

Private College for $11,000 a Year? Libertarian Businessman Creates an Alternative to Higher Ed Waste

Bob Luddy, who made a fortune in commercial kitchen ventilation, is opening Thales College in North Carolina later this year.

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Bob Luddy is the founder and owner of CaptiveAire, the world's largest commercial kitchen ventilation manufacturer, with $500 million in 2018 revenues, zero debt, 1,300 employees, and factories in seven states. His latest venture is a non-profit college that seeks to slash typical costs and improve quality, offering an alternative to the wasteful practices of higher ed.

"Industries fall into group think," Luddy told Reason. "Anybody in their right mind would go to a college and say, 'why do you need all these buildings?'"

Thales College, which is launching this fall in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, isn't Luddy's first education venture. He started a charter school in 1998, and a Catholic school in 2001. The charter, Franklin Academy, is the third largest in North Carolina, with four applicants vying for every one kindergarten spot. But, in Luddy's view, charters have limited potential for disruption because state regulators won't consent to radical approaches.

So in 2007 he launched Thales Academy, a network of K-12 private schools affordable for working-class families. (Watch "Libertarian Builds Low Cost Schools for the Masses.") Thales keeps costs down by cutting out virtually all administrative employees and nonessentials. Its seven locations (soon to be eight) with over 3,000 students don't have auditoriums because they're expensive to heat and cool. And they don't have sports teams, which Luddy considers distractions. Annual tuition is $5,300 for elementary school, and $6,000 for junior high and high school.

Luddy's latest project brings his brand of cost cutting and innovation to higher education. Students will pay $10,667 annually for a degree that will take just three years, since classes will run 45 weeks per year rather than the conventional 30, appealing to students and families unwilling to take on crushing debt. The school's strategy for keeping costs down will mirror CaptiveAire's: cut out non-essentials, aggressively integrate new technologies, and otherwise seek every opportunity to break with widely accepted practices that are useless or wasteful.

Thales will be a teaching college, where the faculty doesn't face pressure to publish or perish. Lectures will be offered online, so that students can watch (and rewatch) at home. Since online learning can't replicate the value of one-on-one mentoring, each student will get at least an hour per week alone with a professor.

Prospective students will need to score higher than the 60th percentile on the SAT or ACT. Thales will function as a commuter school, limiting the applicant pool, but the school may consider serving out of towners in the future. Some applicants, however, will be turned off by the offering of a single program with no electives, a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, with set courses offered in Western literature, ethics, math, logic, economics, and finance.

Luddy's decision to offer a fixed curriculum grew out of his experiences hiring talent at CaptiveAire. What "some of these graduates of engineering programs don't know is shocking," he says. The best employees, in his view, learn on the job and through their own initiative. "One of the top three engineers in our company never went to engineering school," Luddy says. His focus is on creating self-starters.

Thales College won't seek accreditation because doing so would be a "hindrance," says Dr. Timothy Hall, who will serve as the school's director of operations and academics. Accrediting institutions require that colleges have research libraries and a certain number of Ph.D.s on their faculty, according to Hall. Luddy sees college research libraries as a waste of money in the online age, and Hall says that the school will hire the best teachers, whether they have doctorate degrees or not.

Lack of accreditation means students won't be eligible for federal loans, and if they decide to transfer schools, other accredited institutions may decline to honor the credits they've accrued. Hall says that won't be a problem. "We're confident they'll be able to transfer credits," he says, because other institutions generally ask for syllabi to evaluate the quality of another school's courses. Hall's "not sure" if not being accredited will disqualify Thales alums from admission to some graduate programs, but anticipates that most will go right into the workforce. This is a school "for entrepreneurs."

Thales College will accept 45 students in its inaugural class, with ambitious expansion plans if the model is successful. In Luddy's view, ending all federal subsidies would be the fastest and most effective way to upend higher education. But that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. Societal change comes not through advocacy, but via "exit:" Create alternatives and people will vote with their wallets.

Watch our story on Luddy's K-12 network of private schools, Thales Academy:

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55 responses to “Private College for $11,000 a Year? Libertarian Businessman Creates an Alternative to Higher Ed Waste

  1. Good luck. The racket will fight this. Hard.

    1. They will, and they will fight dirty. They will hunt high and low for any semblance of federal support, for any hint of Title IX funny business, and they will do their damnedest to keep the degrees and credits untransferable.

      What I hope is that he perseveres, and in 5 or ten years, proves all the doubters were wrong. I hope he gets so many applicants that he can expand to other states, and I hope he gets copycats who try different ways to offer the same non-nonsense education.

      1. If they go looking for Title IX “funny business”, they’ll get laughed at right in their faces, since Title IX goes along with accepting federal funds, which they won’t be because they aren’t either regionally or nationally accredited.

        As for whether credits transfer, that’s always up to the other institution. Some schools create formal agreements with each other about what transfers and what doesn’t, but most do not and even when they do, they always have the choice to decide “No”.

        Running a cheap-ass, no-frills school is not a recent development in education. Most private vocational schools are run very lean. Hell, his 45-week schedule is lame… I worked ten years in a school that ran on a 50-week schedule, because if the school isn’t open and offering classes, it isn’t making money. Instructors had two 1-week vacations… one in the winter and one in the summer, and zero opportunity to take vacation any other time.

        1. The transferring of credits is a joke.

          I looked in to going in to a wildlife management program. This program has a section of writing requirements. They wouldn’t accept my credits.

          I have a Masters in English and taught writing at university for several years.

      2. “Looter media attacks” on Perot were everywhere in 1992. So when looter Luddites attack Luddy he can cock his head and say: “talk to me, I’m all ear on this side!”

    2. One word; accreditation. The accedidation organizations are corrupt as hell and likely torture this place for the sin of not having a hate studies department or any diversity administrators or bias police

      1. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

        1. What does that have to do with posting here?

        2. And you do Pollock?

          1. Yeah, I do, Shitty.

  2. My grandchildren will attend strong liberal-libertarian schools and, I expect, earned advanced degrees. Others arew welcome to send their children and grandchildren to unaccredited schools operated by the religious right. I have sympathy for the children forced to attend the low-grade, nonsense-teaching goober factories, but I am grateful my family members will get to compete economically, politically, and socially with the graduates of Malcontent Academy.

    1. Given their significant genetic handicaps, your grandchildren will likely be lucky to feed themselves

      1. The lunatic Mary Stack will be lucky if her offspring even volunteer to contribute any money towards her funeral!

        1. Stack is still around?
          I got too busy to comment here much… since not long after she doxxed herself way back when.
          I was the guy who offered for her to live in my cabin for a year in British Columbia if she really thought the primitive life was so wonderful.

      2. Note to foreign readers: Jawn has the usual nationalsocialist preoccupation with possible non-altruist or non-mystical genes

  3. We will see. But that being said, 11,000 a year is not that cheap. Accreditation is very important to employers. And I believe that Universities are largely filters rather than actual sources of education. But we will see. I think there is a lot of cultural inertia that makes this a particularly tough nut to crack.

    1. I think a lot of this problem is simply changing cultural norms on what advanced education looks like. This model represents a big shift away from the research institute style of University that is dominant in the world. I agree that it is probably not a necessary model, but the implications of getting away from it begins to treat higher education largely as a trade school. I hope that this shift is tenable.

      1. I agree with your first sentence, but building a coursework-focused system is not innovative at all. We need to start realizing what (accredited) graduate and professional institutions already know – that coursework should be strictly complementary to real hands-on learning.

      2. “This model represents a big shift away from the research institute style of University that is dominant in the world.”

        It’s called “vocational education”, and has been around for rather a long time. As a field, it contains legit, dedicated professional educators and scam-artist, fly-by-night operations and is well-known for having institutions that close up without warning, or leave students with debts but not useful skills. The unaccredited end of the field is not a neighborhood one would choose intentionally… it has A) schools that couldn’t get accredited, B) schools that were once accredited, but got delisted, and C) scam operations that never intended to seek accreditation, because accredited schools are in it for the long haul.

    2. I doubt most employers authenticate accreditation. All the HR clerks want is “B.S. yyyy”. Some might learn that Thales College is to be avoided, but only if their boss tells them so.

      1. This. And the more relevant job experience you have, the less the average employer will care about the school you went to. So one way Thales can help students get around the perceived accreditation problem is through internship and apprenticeship programs. Bam, instant work references.

        1. This is getting at a very fundamental break in what education looks like. I think I kind of got into it with my other comment, but you’re basically describing a return of training programs and journeyman style job training.

          Which I actually agree with, but is such a big shift from what is currently expected in education that I think it’s a hard one to convince people of just yet.

          1. Modernized apprenticeships would go a long way towards improving the efficiency and relevance of education. The traditional apprentices were indentured servants, almost slaves.

            I wonder if employers could charge nominal tuition for on-the-job training without running afoul of minimum wage laws. A plumber, for instance, would actually lose money with a beginning apprentice. Different occupations would differ as to how much tuition they’d need to break even with a raw newbie, and how long it would be before minimum wage matched gain.

            Computers and mechanics have much in common, and would be great for apprenticeships. I’d much rather hire someone who spent two years on-the-job training than four years in college. But minimum wage laws would make it impossible.

            1. The term you’re looking for is “externship”, and it has existed in the private vocational school environment for decades.

              Some jobs do function through apprenticeship, and they are almost all run by the unions. Some folks have a problem with that.

        2. We already have this in accredited schools. And I don’t view this as being one of Thales focuses anyway. They’re (generally) moving in the opposite direction by offering their stuff online.

      2. You really think that employers discount the difference between Harvard and Thales?

      3. “I doubt most employers authenticate accreditation.”

        In at least one state, it is a crime to claim a degree if it was not granted by an accredited institution, and the state maintains a list of institutions that offer legit degrees.

    3. “Residents of Texas pay an annual total price of $25,440 to attend The University of Texas at Austin on a full time basis. This fee is comprised of $10,398 for tuition, $10,070 room and board, $662 for books and supplies and $0 for other fees.”

      But his point about engineers not learning English is relevant. My biggest challenge at work is people who use the wrong words and then get mad when they don’t get what they want.

      1. My youngest is at Longwood University (in Virginia) and tuition there runs around $16k/year. Books & supplies seem to run about $1,000. She and her husband cover off-campus room and board so I can’t speak to that.

      2. So UT (a very good system) is cheaper than what this guy is offering. At least annually. Room and board is optional (and in schools that claim it’s not, it’s fairlu easy to make it optional). So I agree with whoever said $11k isn’t a great deal.

        1. But for that extra $600 a year, you get fifteen extra weeks of classes.

          1. What will it cost you to live off-campus at UT-A, if you can’t commute? 1k a month for a studio, maybe $600 a mo if you share a 3-bedroom? Add electric, heat, transit costs, internet, food, and other living costs. State capitals with flagship state Us have a large population of never-graduated students or alumni who stay in town to start their careers, bidding up the off-campus “student housing.” It might be cheaper to live somewhere less hip, too.

        2. This school is also running 50% more weeks though… So total cost to complete the degree will be dropped considerably.

      3. I’ve known people at work who received English degrees that are poor communicators too. And they get mad when nobody can figure out what they want done when they send rambling emails.

    4. 11000 is not cheap, but most private colleges are a heck of a lot more.
      You may have to take loans, but you wouldn’t fall as deep into debt as plenty of these kids do nowadays.

      1. Those loans will be unsubsidized, if the school isn’t accredited. A plan allowing one to pay in installments might be best for the working adult. Payment per course (or per credit) that doesn’t penalize you fo taking a “full load” would be nice, but firms offering a “quantity discount” is normal business practice.

    5. Employers must be getting tired of the conventionally miseducated spawn of the Liberal Arts industry.

    6. It’s difficult to get a job interview at most engineering firms without a bachelors of science from a school someone has heard about.

      Whittling down administration and sports is the right move- I wish this kind of thinking would spread.

  4. So he’s adopting the community college model. This isn’t particularly innovative. I had hoped to read he was adopting a truly alternative method, like apprenticeship, but he appears to be moving in the exact opposite direction by eschewing research in favor of coursework. A real shame.

    1. Exactly. I was initially intrigued by the idea of eliminating all the status markers (sports teams, influence-peddling administrators and lawyers) and just (re)focusing on the basics of education. However, the lack of natural sciences makes this woefully incomplete. And the lack of research makes it just “advanced secondary education” rather than the equivalent of universities. Without research, teachers have little incentive (or time) to keep up with the cutting edge knowledge of their fields. Without research experience (i.e. PhDs), teachers are unlikely to truly understand the nature of the information they are providing their students… turning science into received, dead knowledge that is passed down through generations by rote memorization.

  5. ” Accrediting institutions require that colleges have research libraries and a certain number of Ph.D.s on their faculty”

    Dr. Hall is talking out his ass, unless the “certain number” he was referring to is 0.

    http://www.acics.org/WorkArea/…..libID=6838

  6. I like that he is trying to do this. Maybe it isn’t super innovative, but I hope he can provide a quality product at a reasonable price. In and Out Burger isn’t especially innovative, but they have the best burgers in town, and for a good price too. Most private colleges are too expensive, and state schools are heavily subsidized, so comparing prices to them is not exactly a fair comparison.

  7. The primary purpose of a research university is (duh) research, and educating people is a side business.

    Vocational education is not a new development, and most of them let you pick what vocation you’d like to be educated in, and offer accredited classes so students have some assurance that what they’re being taught is accurate and reasonably complete. There may be 45 total students who can benefit from this institution. It’s not going to be “disrupting” anyone else’s educational approaches.

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    1. That is pretty impressive. What language do you utilize for work. It obviously isn’t English.

  9. Interesting, I hope it does well.

  10. We’ll just have to wait and see. There have been an awful lot of scams in the for-profit college business, along with some that really teach students what they need to know for a given career.

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  12. It’s his money, but it’s my belief that what really needs to happen is for employers to rewrite job requirements in terms of certifications rather than degrees.

    Degrees simply aren’t worth much in this day and age of massive technological change. Specific skills learned routinely throughout your career are much more valuable than 4 years of material that has little bearing on anything.

    Universities existed to allow an accumulation of knowledge for the student to access conveniently. That function no longer is needed. I took a udacity course and had plenty of opportunities to attend local udacity study and social activities. It was a whole lot more useful than my 6 years on a university campus.

  13. Searches for Luddy turn him up shoveling cash into Republican campaign coffers, never anything libertarian at all. Are libertarian spoiler votes now causing Gods’s Own Prohibitionists to “rectify” the past? How about an article on how in 1929 the Libertarian Pope and Libertarian dictator Mussolini agreed to add catechism classes to government school curricula?

  14. A school provides tuition, a social network and a diploma
    Room & hosting are mandatory for the network part.

    I see this model as sensible.

  15. Isn’t that a lot? Although looking with what we compare. I think that today there are a lot of alternative education options being created. One of which is online education assistance from this website, these are the new options that many are already using now. The prices are low, the quality is high. I think the knowledge you get there will be very useful.

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  18. Wow, he is such a cock. I think it isn’t worth it. He wastes a lot of money and then will visit the sites like https://ng.jobsora.com/ searching for any hob. I believe we should always think and don’t make mistakes. That’s all I wanted to say about it

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