Is This the Future of Higher Education?

One of my students told me about a school he had looked into for college, a school I had never heard of. I asked him if he could send me info on the program, and a couple of hours later he had sent me a link to the school as well as a couple of articles about the school. (article one, article two).

Suffice it to say, it is a very different college experience compared to the traditional four-year school.

The name of the school is Minerva, and it has an acceptance rate of just 1.9%, which is much lower than at any schools in the Ivy League, as well as at Stanford. Harvard has the lowest acceptance rate in the Ivy League at 5.2%, while Stanford accepted only 4.69%.

Bu the low acceptance rate is not what makes Minerva so unique. It is a combination of how classes are delivered, what type of class are delivered, and where classes are delivered.

Here is some info on the curriculum at Minverva, from the college’s web site:

Freshmen year, known as the Foundation, takes place in San Francisco. The first-year curriculum is devoted to the four Cornerstone courses -multi-modal communication, complex systems, formal analysis, and empirical analysis. Collectively, these courses focus on developing the habits of mind and foundational concepts (HCs) that underlie four core competencies — thinking critically, thinking creatively, communicating effectively, and interacting effectively — that are a common foundation for every Minerva student.

Here’s a video of what takes place on a typical day during first year:

After the year in San Francisco, the students spend the following three years immersed in cities around the globe – Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul, and London.

From the school’s web site:

As a resident in seven vibrant world cities, you are constantly stimulated and challenged to grow. In addition to the life skills acquired through community living and cultural immersion, you gain access to a range of experiential programs expressly designed to extend your learning into the urban context. From meetings with civic leaders to project work in top organizations, these exciting activities push you to transfer capabilities learned in class to new and unfamiliar situations.

Managing daily life in multiple cities, you will learn about yourself and gain the ability to thrive in any context. Along with the welcoming environment in each Minerva residence, comes the responsibility of living as an adult. From socializing and cooking meals to time and stress management, you will establish the practices and learn the crucial skills needed to live independently.

The second year is referred to as Direction. During this year, students work with their academic advisor to explore and then select a major, setting the direction for the major core courses they need to complete your degree. There are five majors — Arts & Humanities, Business, Computational Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences.

Year 3 is known as Focus, as the students’ focus continues to narrow when they select a concentration within their major. The concentrations, which enable more directed work in their chosen field, are more analogous to the majors found at other universities.

The final year is called Synthesis, and centers on completing a self-directed Capstone project. By envisioning, planning, and producing an integrated application of the students’ skills and interests, they are able to create something that is both personally compelling and truly novel to their field. The Capstone is completed and presented during Manifest, a month-long term that takes place in San Francisco, following the spring semester of year four.

Since there is no physical campus associated with Minerva, all of the classes at Minerva are taught online, and are designed to be highly interactive.

Ben Nelson, 40, who founded the for-profit college in San Francisco in 2012, believes that higher ed is in need of significant change.

Nelson tries to control costs (tuition and room & board is “just” $28,000, compared to about $60,000 at Stanford) by having no athletics program, not paying teachers to do research, and not having a library, a gym, or science labs.  Nelson claims these are all an unnecessary part of the on-campus college experience. He says that students can find public libraries close by, and jouin a local gym if so inclined.

He also tries to avoid offering the traditional “101” type class, which he says are just focused on rote memorization. As noted above, Minerva wants students to think critically, think creatively, communicate effectively, and interact effectively, the exact opposite of what takes place in traditional 101 classes.

The idea of Minerva is quite intriguing, and I plan to read more about it, and follow its progress. I like when someone comes along with a fresh perspective, and I have been telling my students for a few years that higher ed is ripe for dramatic change.

Could Minerva be that dramatic change?

Only time will tell, but I certainly wish them the best.


Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *