Aspen Tech accepts enrollees
Feeling the need for a little educational boost in your life, but not interested in going through the cost and bother of actually attending school?Well, Lee Swidler has the solution for you.You see, Swidler, a 21-year Carbondale resident, is now a college president, and he can’t wait to begin issuing diplomas to any and all interested locals.And what will the name of your new alma mater be, you ask?The Aspen Technical Institute, that’s what.Of course, it’s a “virtual” college, existing only as a “campus bookstore” on the Internet (it can be found at http://www.aspentechinstitute.com), and a merchandising business operating from various points in the Roaring Fork Valley. So while your diploma will really be printed on paper and (for a nominal fee) can be framed as well, it’s only worth – well, the paper and frame it’s printed on and placed within.The idea came to Swidler about a year ago, after he had sold his business (Valley Lock & Key and Sopris Security) and was sitting around wondering what to do next.He recalled the rollicking success and popularity of the now-defunct Aspen State Teachers College – another non-school that sold college-type paraphernalia and held wild “freshman class” parties in the 1970s. Started by local businessmen Al Pendorf and a man who went by the name of “Slats Cabbage,” the ASTC had a storefront in town for a while before it went belly-up, and was a popular local goof.Swidler, gripped by the memories, first felt a pang of nostalgia, and then a whiff of some potential for fun and profit. After the idea had gestated for a while, he sought out an artist named Parker in Basalt for some graphic illustrations, and a webmaster, Chris Tucker of Right Now Communication in Basalt, to build the website.”Everybody is always talking about diploma mills, where it’s a real scam,” Swidler said. “But this is right up front. This is as bogus as you can get.”And it fits with the Aspen mythology, he said.”I’ve always thought of Aspen as a college town, even though there’s no college there,” he quipped this week while explaining his new enterprise.Reminded that Colorado Mountain College has a branch in Aspen, and they actually teach classes, Swidler replied, “That’s just a two-year college. This is a real college. Well, it’s a four-year college. Well, it’s a virtual college, and you get a real, virtual education.”The website’s home page features the logo of the operation – a joker’s cap instead of a mortar board – and the following statement: “Dear Applicant – you have been accepted by the Aspen Institute of Technology,” followed by a small box marked “Campus Entrance.”Once on campus, the applicant can either order his or her diploma right away for the bargain price of $10, or step into the “Campus Bookstore” and order a T-shirt, a coffee mug or a bumper sticker. A purchase of $10 entitles the buyer to a free diploma, and reminders of that fact are encountered all over the place on campus.”At ATI,” the website tells browsers, “We value your need for authentic college merchandise, with an authentic college education. Why attend a real college and go into debt …?”Oh, and on the diploma, there is a line for your major degree subject, plucked from a listthat includes Gastronomics, Adultery, Absurdity, Chaos, Apostasy and Blondeness, to name just a few.Swidler, his wife, Jane, and their child are about to move out of the valley to live in Costa Rica. He has arranged for his local partners to take care of the mail order business and the website.”I’m the idea man,” he said proudly this week, “and I’m putting out the bucks, I’m backing it.” He noted that the merchandise is being printed up right now, the website has just been launched. He’ll just wait to see what happens.”I hope to make a little money and have a good time,” he declared, adding that he expects the site, and the business, to evolve to meet the needs and tastes of customers, “since the entire thing is tongue-in-cheek, it’s for everybody to have fun.”
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