Black Mountain SOLE Unveils Innovative Higher Education Alternative for Self-Directed and Lifelong Learners

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Seven young visionaries raise $5 Million to launch purpose-driven programs — the personalized, collaborative & tuition-free school opens its doors this fall.

Black Mountain SOLE

Black Mountain SOLE

Given the chance, individuals can and will teach themselves virtually anything.

Black Mountain SOLE (BMS) opens this year as the world’s first tuition-free, residential, self-organized learning environment for higher education. The novel institution provides a much-needed educational alternative for the country’s most talented and driven learners. It provides blended learning and personalized one-on-one mentoring within an intellectually stimulating and supportive community. Its innovative programs embrace open-source content and novel educational technology to empower self-directed learning.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit campus is located at the historic site of the original Black Mountain College, in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and endeavors to carry on the revolutionary legacy left by the original College. BMS is led by seven highly-accomplished individuals as a means to promote SOLEs, the passion-driven educational learning framework outlined by Dr. Sugata Mitra [1]. Self-organized learning environments (SOLEs) enable learners to freely discover knowledge. Given the chance, individuals can and will teach themselves virtually anything [2].

In response to the growing crisis in higher education and the need for an imaginative and social learning environment, BMS has launched a platform that will harness the power of self-directed learning. “Creativity, customization, personal responsibility, innovation, passion, and collaboration — these are the skills that graduates need, but just aren’t being taught,” explains Dr. Alexandra Kamins, a 25-year-old co-founder and Gates Cambridge Scholar. “Our residential campus cultivates all of these traits, as well as provides a stimulating environment for self-motivated learners to connect, share and create.”

Fifty years ago, a similar environment attracted intellectual giants like Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Buckminster Fuller, and Gerald Heard to Black Mountain College. Black Mountain SOLE intends to draw a similar legion of potential world leaders by reinvigorating a hub in Black Mountain for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal and scientific discovery. “We’re taking the courageous spirit and progressive ideals of the original Black Mountain College and updating it for today’s culture and technology,” said the 27-year-old Executive Director of BMS, David Dobias. “Open-source content is changing everything.”

With companies like Coursera, edX, and Udacity providing free access to the best professors at the world’s top universities, many prospective college students are questioning why tuition costs continue to soar. Black Mountain SOLE is taking a different approach by not charging any tuition fees. Every dollar supporting this effort so far has been contributed by its founding members. “Most traditional colleges charge massive fees upfront and leave no opportunity for students to demand a satisfactory product,” says Christopher Hanna CPA, Executive Strategist for BMS and President of SPRY Strategy. “At Black Mountain SOLE, we invest in our students, not the other way around.”

“We cannot wait for someone else to fix these problems for us. We have to take action now,” added Katie Cleary, the 27-year-old Community Director at BMS. “We’re taking matters into our own hands, for our peers and future generations. Our students will develop a powerful network of contacts, and create a portfolio of real-world projects that demonstrate who they are and what they can contribute to the world.”

In addition to its coworking operations, Black Mountain SOLE currently offers three programs. The first, beginning in September, is Geronimo Gap Year, a nine-month experiential learning program designed to fill in the gaps left by traditional schooling. Students discover their passions, hone critical life skills, and execute their own real-world project with the help of personal mentors. The second program, MOOC Campus, aims to support students taking Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), offered by universities across the world that can be used to earn accredited degrees. The third program, Radical Sabbatical, offers daily, weekly or monthly stays at the resort-style campus, enabling anyone to soak in the vibrant community and opportunities at Black Mountain for less than it costs to rent a tiny room in NYC. BMS is also developing a summer program specifically for high school students with a first offering scheduled for the summer of 2014.

Anyone interested in ‘taking the leap’ can apply at Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. “We’ve been working around the clock to make this happen,” said Jeff Brown, a BMS co-founder. “We can’t wait to welcome our first particpants in September. Our vision for experiential learning in higher education, fueled by a conscious attention to the role of imagination, personal initiative, and purpose, is now a reality!” The campus is hosting an Open House on May 18, 2013. Anyone is welcome, with RSVP requested at For more information, email info(at)bmsole(dot)org.

About BMS
Black Mountain SOLE is the world’s first tuition-free institution for higher education, providing a residential campus for learner-centered education. Programs incorporate progressive ideas from leading educational innovators with a residential community of smart, motivated people. BMS is located at the same resort-based campus that the historic Black Mountain College occupied 50 years ago.

About Geronimo Gap Year
BMS’ nine-month experiential learning program is designed to fill in the gaps left by traditional schooling. Students discover their passions, hone critical life skills, and execute their own real-world project with the help of personal mentors.

About MOOC Campus
BMS’ personalized program for online learners supports the use of Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs). The program is designed for smart, highly motivated students that seek community support, camaraderie, and connections that come from a facilitated self-directed learning environment.

About Radical Sabbatical
BMS’ program for personal sabbaticals, study groups, and creative retreats. Daily, weekly, or monthly stays at the resort-style campus, for less than it costs to rent a tiny room in New York.

About Coworking
BMS’ collaborative co-working facilities for residential or daytime use. Business and resort-style amenities on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

For more information, visit:

(1) Ted Sole Toolkit
(2) Mitra, Sugata, and Dangwal, Ritu. 2010. “Limits to self-organising systems of learning—the Kalikuppam experiment.” British Journal of Educational Technology 41(5):672–688. Retrieved March 17, 2013.

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