What's Behind a Major Gift for a More Integrative Residential College Experience?

Lord knows college is expensive nowadays. But the traditional residential model brings many benefits to the table, most notably, providing students with an immersive and integrative educational experience.

It's precisely this kind of experience that University of Southern California (USC) Trustee David C. Bohnett hopes to cultivate with a $15 million pledge to endow and name a residential college at USC Village. The David C. Bohnett Residential College will focus on the principles of social justice and community service, and will form part of a thriving student community that "integrates living and learning" for up to 320 students as well as faculty-in-residence and student support staff.

Sounds cozy, doesn't it?

The gift also will establish a leadership fund at the USC Price School of Public Policy supporting a fellowship in public policy with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and endow a chair in social entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business. 

We're particularly intrigued by the integrative learning part of the gift, so let's loop back to that.

On the surface, the gift seems to confirm what we already know. That is, most residential colleges, by their very nature, provide a kind of integrative living environment. But the degree of integration is a relative thing.

Some colleges place students in giant high-rise apartment complexes where their interaction with other students is minimal. Others separate living spaces from the actual classrooms, creating a sense of detachment. In short, residential college students can nonetheless feel like commuters.

The USC village, on the other hand, creates what could be described as a "college within a college." Located directly north of the University Park Campus, the 1.25-million-square-foot USC Village project will enhance campus life for students while opening up an array of new retail and service options for the local community when it opens in 2017.

"It’s my hope and aspiration that the Bohnett Residential College will afford USC students with a richly immersive college experience and help prepare them to be actively engaged members of the community throughout their lives," Bohnett said.

And what about Bohnett?

Well, as previously noted in our funder profile, he made his fortune in the technology sector. After turning to serious philanthropy in the late 1990s, he primarily focused on LGBT causes. Yet over time, he channeled more money towards the arts. Through the David Bohnett Foundation, he's been a major donor to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and in 2014 pledged $20 million to the LA Philharmonic. He's also made an array of smaller gifts to places like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the League of American Orchestras. This major gift to USC opens yet another front in Bohnett's philanthropy. 

RelatedOn Second Thought, I Love the Philharmonic: How David Bohnett Became an Arts Philanthropist

One last point. Bohnett's campus gift also underscores the fact that, despite the democratizing promise of online and blended learning, funders still see tremendous value in a classic residential college experience. And that's a good thing. Why? Because students also see tremendous value in a classic residential college experience.

As we noted in a recent post looking at the Teagle Foundation's assessment of various blending learning efforts in the liberal arts space, Loni Bordoloi, one of the foundation's program directors, told assembled colleges: "Your students chose your institutions for a reason. They wanted, by and large, a residential liberal arts experience."  

Of course, a true residential college experience may not be in the cards for every student out there, which makes blended learning an effective alternative. But Bohnett's "college with in a college" gift suggests that existing residential college experiences can be made more integrative, more impactful, and more community-oriented.

Click here for more insight into David Bohnett's Los Angeles-area giving.

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