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The University of Independent Workers

A non-profit online university program for future independent contractors which alternates between 4 months of school and 4 months of work.

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

This idea is targeted to high-performing students who are interested in independent work and any company or entity which might need employees to take on short-term projects. It re-imagines the cost of college by allowing students to fund their schooling and earn revenue through short-term contracts and special projects throughout their degree. The University will focus on building good relationships with employers as to build a strong pool of contract positions to which the students may apply.

Why Independent Workers?

"According to a recent SAP and Oxford Economics report, 83% of executives say their companies are increasing their use of contingent workers. Intuit reported that by 2020 40% of American Workers will be freelancers. Another recent report from MBO Partners found that today there are approximately 30 million independent workers and that by 2019 this number will grow to 40 million." (1)

The University of Independent Workers will allow students to prepare for independent work while funding their education through a mandatory work and school co-op program.  

The Application Process:

Crash course on independent work

An online introductory course on independent work and the types of careers available to an independent contractor will be available to any prospective students. This free course will be one month in length and will primarily be advertised to students in the last two years of high school. 

Application for Submission

Prospective students will complete a project plan for the University as part of their application. The University will have a variety of small projects posted and each prospective student will choose a project in their field and complete a project plan.

Stage 1: General Admission + Project Proposal

Stage 1 will include the submission of their general admission with grades and other material as well as a proposal for a specific project. 

Stage 2: Interview

Students with the best applications and project proposals will be selected for interviews.

Stage 3: Project Planning

Those who make it through the interview process will be invited to the project planning stage where they will be provided feedback and enter a re-iterative process to create their plans. Those with well-designed plans will be admitted to the program. 

Professional Development Courses

Students will complete professional development courses during which they will learn how to create a compelling application for a project while building a portfolio of their work experience. The core professional development courses will be completed in the first year of university prior to any work terms. Advanced professional development classes will be offered throughout the degree, relating students' experiences in the workforce with the class content. 

Online Classes

Classes will be filmed and released online to keep costs low and to allow professionals within the fields to take part in the teaching processes. Experts in their fields will be invited to speak on various topics for the classes. Class videos will be updated as necessary when information becomes outdated or to improve on lecture content.

All classes will have small seminars facilitated by teaching assistants. Students will be encouraged to discuss class content and take on small projects as part of class work. Paid projects will be offered to classes when available. 

Work Terms

A pool of prospective employers will be cultivated by the University. Employers will be able to post part time projects on the job board at any time, and will also be able to employ students for 4-month work projects. Employers may also be able to hire students for up to 8 months for special projects. Employers will be offered online courses on mentoring and guiding new workers. 

Social Life

Students will have access to a meet-up group for fellow students and alumni. Through this platform students can create local and online groups to explore their interests with fellow students. 

Funding Incentives

We would work with different levels of government to try to offer employers incentives to hire students. This can include tax breaks and potentially fully funding students for smaller start-ups and non-for-profits. 



What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

An online job board for independent contract work geared to University students could be developed in the Bay area. Students at local universities would go through an application process. Those selected would then join the job board and apply to independent projects that are either part-time during their classes or full-time on their terms off. This would allow us to build relationships with prospective employers while testing out the benefit of the program for both students and employers.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Any input from employers who have hired or would consider hiring students for independent projects within their company would be much appreciated. What kind of projects would you have that might appeal to students? What kind of guidance/ mentorship would be available to those students? What incentives would encourage you to hire students for these positions? What issues do you think might come up throughout the process from hiring to project delivery?

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • Yes


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