Sunday, April 15, 2012

A New "Elite University" Gets $25 Million in Seed Funding

The new university is called The Minerva Project, and according to CEO Ben Nelson, it recognizes all the free educational resources that are available online. In fact, says Nelson, the university won't ask students to pay tuition for anything that you can learn elsewhere. "You'll never find a foreign language class. You'll never find an introductory class" at the university, he told me in a phone interview today. What you will find is an academically rigorous liberal arts education, more akin to graduate school perhaps or to, according to Nelson, a bygone era when a university education meant you were required to take a bunch of core classes and where you gained critical thinking skills -- and the social certitude, perhaps -- to be able to speak smartly or argue intelligently on any topic.

Describing The Minerva Project as an "elite university in the 21st century model, for the 21st century," Nelson says that the new for-profit, online university challenges the student-university relationship at every stage.


Massive online courses have surged in popularity, but Nelson says here too The Minerva Project experience will be different. The focus, he argues will be on "quality teaching," and to that end the university hopes to lure professors to it by offering a "Minerva Prize," a cash prize for the best teaching professors in the world.


The Minerva Project sounds like an ambitious project, but its backing doesn't just come from a Silicon Valley VC firm. On its board of advisors is Larry Summers, former Harvard President and former Secretary of the Treasury; Patrick Harker, President of the University of Delaware and former Dean of the Wharton School of Business; Senator Bob Kerrey; and Lee Shulman, Emeritus Professor of the Stanford School of Education.

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