The Minerva Project, which promises an elite, rigorous, all-online college education, is drawing attention. Ben Nelson, who founded the Snapfish photo web site, sees Minerva as an alternative to the Ivy League. Larry Summers, a former president of Harvard, will chair the advisory board, which will include Bob Kerrey, a former senator and head of the New School in New York, and Pat Harker, president of the University of Delaware and a former dean of the Wharton School.
“I don’t want or need to disrupt Harvard. I care about the kid who should have got into Harvard but didn’t,” says Nelson. Minerva is aiming at the “children of a Wipro middle manager from India, or a Foxconn line operator from China,” says Nelson.
The curriculum will focus on skills rather than traditional academic studies and be based on four pillars: critical thinking, use of data, understanding complex systems and leading through effective communication. The course content will be outsourced, drawing from what is readily available online and through a “Minerva Prize” competition to get leading educators to design classes. It will be delivered via the internet to classes of 25 students and a professor will then engage them in debate. Students will be located in several cities around the world, and be expected to move to a different location each year.
Nelson says it will be harder to get into Minerva than the Ivy League, but that assumes lots of people will be willing to pay $20,000 a year to watch videos, chat online and hang out with fellow Minervans. (If that $20,000 doesn’t cover room and board, Minerva will be no bargain.) The venture is for profit.
It sounds a bit squishy, writes Dan Willingham, but courses will be demanding, and “students who do not perform well will (gasp) fail the course.”