Thales College

Written By Jane Shaw Stroup

Thales College opened its doors to undergraduates in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in 2022. Thales was founded in 2019 and started high school dual enrollment classes and a summer institute program in 2021. The continuing education program for a Certificate of Classical Education Philosophy began in 2023. This private school has a specific focus: providing college students with both a liberal arts education and professional job preparation. Its motto is Scientia et Sapientia, Knowledge and Wisdom. The college is serious about teaching young people the best traditions of Western civilization, as the name Thales indicates.

Thales of Miletus was “one of the Seven Sages of Greece whom Aristotle regarded as the intellectual fountainhead of Western philosophy,” Thales’ founder, Robert (Bob) Luddy explains. Part of that Greek heritage is a “commitment to wise living,” he says. “I believe that at their core, parents want more than anything else for their children to learn to live wisely throughout their lives.”[1]

Thales is distinctive for several reasons. It is a year-round school, so students can receive their bachelor’s degree in three years; it is non-residential, although the school will help out-of-town students find housing; it costs only $4,000 per semester; so, with a total of 8 semesters (some taken during the summer), students can graduate after spending only $32,000 on tuition.

The school offers three professional majors: Entrepreneurial Business (B.A.), Classical Education (B.A.), and Mechanical Engineering (B.S.). All students have the opportunity to take part in industry internships, and all students take a classical core curriculum that adds a second major in Liberal Arts for B.A. students and a minor in Liberal Arts for B.S. students. Although the school is new, its founder has already developed three important secondary schools in North Carolina—charter, private, and Roman Catholic.

Bob Luddy did not start out as an educator. He is a successful entrepreneur who created a company called CaptiveAire in 1976. It is now a leading supplier of commercial and industrial ventilation systems, with manufacturing plants in 6 states, including North Carolina, and over 2,000 employees nationwide.

“Luddy became interested in education,” wrote Jim Epstein in Reason Magazine, “when he observed that many hires at CaptiveAire lacked the basic math and science skills to thrive on the job. He volunteered to co-chair a statewide education commission and met with North Carolina officials to voice his concerns. ‘They were happy to discuss all of these ideas,’ Luddy says, ‘but they weren’t going to implement any of them.’”[2]

Very quickly, says Luddy, “K-12 became my passion.”[3] He began building schools in North Carolina that would provide the skills his company and others needed. But his goal was broader and deeper: to share with students the best in Western civilization.

So, whether a Thales College student wants to be an engineer, entrepreneur, or teacher, he or she will learn about the classics and about wise living.

In a statement, Peter Forrest, dean of humanities at Thales College, explained the curriculum design: “All of our students study the traditional liberal arts and humanities, updated for the 21st century. Students sharpen their intellectual virtues through writing, logic, and rhetoric; and apprentice themselves to the virtuous masters of the past in philosophy, literature, history, and politics. Courses in calculus, physics, statistics, economics, and personal finance ensure that every graduate is grounded in reality and fully prepared to function well in the modern world. By comprehending the best of what is known, students build a firm foundation of wisdom from which to base all future decisions.”

Luddy’s previously founded schools (which continue to thrive) include the following:

  • Franklin Academy, founded in 1997. t now has three locations in Wake Forest and is one of the largest charter schools in the state, providing education from kindergarten through the senior year in high school.
  • St. Thomas More Academy, in Raleigh,formed in response to requests by Catholic parents in 2002. It was created as an “academically rigorous, faith-based school with a classical curriculum.”[4] It teaches students in grades 6 through 12 and since 2018 has been regularly named as one of the “Best Catholic High Schools in North Carolina.”
  • Thales Academy is a private nonprofit school founded in 2007. It has 13 campuses, most in the Raleigh area, but including sites in Virginia and Tennessee. “Thales Academy was born with a simple vision: Provide a high quality, affordable education,” says its website.

Thales College is licensed by the UNC Board of Governors, but does not want or seek regional accreditation. The main purpose of such accreditation, the school states on its website, is to obtain federal funding, but with its low tuition, Thales officials decided that was not necessary. In addition, regional accreditation requires time-consuming reports and visits, which the officials consider unnecessarily intrusive. However, Thales may seek professional accreditation for specific programs.