People, Politics & Business

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The Minerva Project: Shaking up the Ivies?

CJ Westerberg, April 5, 2012 1:35 PM

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 UPDATE: Related - Online Education Venture Lures Cash - Coursera

Jordan Weissmann reports from The Atlantic Monthly.  Excerpts:

Meet The Minerva Project, the chest-beating, Silicon Valley-spawned, Larry Summers-backed "E-lite" college that just might reshape the worldwide market for education.

Traditionally, for-profit colleges have operated on the lowest rungs of America's educational ladder, catering to poor and lower-middle-class students looking for a basic, convenient degree or technical training. Aspiring Ivy Leaguers have remained far out of the industry's sites.

That is, until now.

This week, the Minerva Project, a startup online university, announced that it had received $25 million in seed financing from Benchmark Capital, a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm known for its early investments in eBay, among other successful web companies. Minerva bills itself as "the first elite American university to be launched in a century," and promises to re-envision higher education for the information age. The chairman of its advisory board: Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard president. Among others, he's joined on the board by Bob Kerry, the former United States senator and president of The New School.


Who is the founder of Minerva?

The brain behind Minerva is Ben Nelson, the former CEO of online photo finishing company Snapfish. Nelson describes himself as a "student of the history of higher education," and says that the idea of dragging college into the modern age has been a personal passion since his undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania. He also has something of a Trump-like weakness for superlatives . . .

Occasional bombast aside, Nelson makes a simple and compelling business pitch. The demand for elite, American-style education far outstrips the current supply, he explained, not just stateside, but worldwide. . . 

Nelson thinks he can unlock it. The idea is to scoop up those students who are being shut out, whether it's a smart American kid who has to opt for a solid state school when they had their heart set on Brown, or the child of a well-to-do family in Beijing, by offering them a great education and a worldwide network of contacts. Minerva will admit applicants based on their academic chops alone -- jocks need not apply -- and students would live in urban dorms scattered across the globe's great cities. They'll take online courses designed by highly esteemed professors from other established institutions. Meanwhile, tuition would cost "less than half" the price of the standard Ivy league sticker price (so somewhere around $20,000 or below). That, anyway, is the plan . . .


Check out the TEDx San Francisco Video below about transforming classrooms and the genesis of Minerva - - - -  let us know what you think.   - CJW

Related:  MIT Offers On-Line Credential 



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