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Lonergan '72: How Brown can survive and thrive over next 250

Brown has made tremendous strides in the past 50 years, moving near the top of the Ivy League ranks in undergraduate and graduate education. Powered by the reforms of the 1969 Magaziner-Maxwell report, Brown chose a new direction, which has differentiated it from other top universities. I believe the University now has the opportunity to lead changes in education that are dramatic and far-reaching, requiring an effort far more revolutionary than what Magaziner-Maxwell envisioned. As a Brown and Harvard Business School alum, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of over 10 companies, I’d like to share a new vision of the future of our university with you, the students, faculty, administrators and alums of Brown.

A new vision for Brown in the next 250 years starts with three first steps. First, the University should find and admit potential Albert Einsteins from the whole world, not just the 30,000 who apply to Brown. The so-called yield rate — the percent of those matriculating after acceptance — is irrelevant. Find the best and the brightest from 7 billion people, not 30,000.

Next, expand on Brown’s important qualities of close student-professor interaction by intensifying the experience and further improving the learning process. Brown should compare its education to the finest institutions in the world — including corporations like Google and Apple — not just the Ivy League.

Third, Brown should offer a spectrum of opportunities to tens of millions of students to benefit from a Brown education — well beyond the few thousand who are residents of the College Hill campus. The University’s students should be of all ages, all educational levels and across all borders. This would both expand Brown’s “brand” and broaden its revenue sources.

Brown is doing well, but complacency is a real threat.

One of the factors that convinced me to choose Brown was the degree of interaction between professors and undergraduate students — far better than at larger Ivy League schools. The centuries-old method of lectures in classes large and small now obstructs one-on-one and small group interactions between teachers and students. New methods, like the Khan Academy model — used for K-12 — can help to flip this relationship and reserve professors’ time for richer interaction while enhancing learning.

To the Office of Admission: Why didn’t Albert Einstein go to Brown? Brown had no way of finding him as a potential student. And Einstein had probably never considered or heard of Brown. What if Brown were able to choose from tens of millions of brilliant minds from around the world? What if Brown had a series of “farm teams” along a learning and class spectrum that gave visibility to these outstanding students, be they in the slums of Calcutta or the favelas in Rio de Janeiro? Just as we need to flip teaching, we also need to flip admissions.

Brown is not getting the best students, globally, to apply. Unfortunately, only a bit more than 50 percent who receive admission to Brown decide to matriculate here. Just for comparison, Stanford University’s rate is 70 percent.

Why is there only a binary of price options for those wanting a Brown education — free or very expensive? Students can fly to Providence, study for several years, and leave with a sheepskin after expending $250,000 and four years of opportunity cost. Or they can take massive open online courses — MOOCs — from Brown, Massachussetts Institute of Technology and other top universities. There’s no degree at the end, but it’s universally available and free. Brown can and should offer a spectrum of learning, from MOOCs for tens of millions of people, to testing and certificates of attendance, to massive online collaboration, to tutored and professor-supported online learning.

Both Brown students and professors should be able to come from anywhere in the world and still be part of the Brown universe. By extending the types of education Brown offers, Brown both extends its reputation and reaches out to find budding Albert Einsteins — and Mahatma Gandhis, Mother Teresas and Martin Luther Kings.

With total U.S. student debt of over $1.2 trillion, students across the country are taking on debt that is unsustainable. Other institutions, and not just universities, are rushing ahead — in many cases, the best education is being offered in the corporate environment. The high opportunity cost and direct out-of-pocket costs of matriculating at Brown for a few years is driving many with talent to reconsider their options.

Brown deserves to survive and thrive over the next 250 years.


John Lonergan ’72 is the managing member of MachLabs, LLC in Redwood City, Calif. He encourages you to engage with these issues at and can be reached at



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