minerva-logo-from-kevin-corbettI remember many years ago, the Arizona State University complained about students enrolling in their college but never going to class because they’d stay in their dorm rooms and take online courses.

At the time, ASU had to reflect on whether this was something that was good or not. Fast forward several years later and it’s a issue more colleges are wrestling with, given the explosion in online learning.

Well, it looks like there might be some genius in a new project then, in getting students together for an online college education, living in dorms together EXCEPT….it’s MINUS the college buildings and campus!

This resonates with me personally for reasons I’ll explain below, but first let me explain a bit more about the new  Minerva Project

QUICK NOTES on Minerva

  • Name: Minerva, after the Roman Goddess of Wisdom
  • Opens: Fall 2015
  • Funding: $25 Million (so far)
  • On Board:
    • Ben Nelson (founder) [article]
      Former CEO of Snapfish
    • Stephen Kosslyn  (founder) [article]
      Director of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and a former dean and chair of the psychology department at Harvard, recently joined as the founding dean.
    • Larry Summers
      Former US Treasury Secretary
      Former Harvard University President
    • Bob Kerry
      Former Senator from Nebraska
      Former President of New School in New York
    • Annual Half Million Dollar Award for Teaching
    • Lure Scientists with a “smaller bite” out of their research grants for overhead and allow professors to retain full ownership of all their intellectual property and discoveries.
    • Attract New Phd’s with short term contracts, autonomy over course content, and flexibility in their teaching location (since there’s no physical campus).
    • A new online learning model
    • Students socialize and learn together in college classes without a geographically fixed campus.
    • SMALL seminars (25 students per class) . VERY DIFFERENT versus the now popular MOOC
    • College Travel (6 countries in four years)
    • College Dorms (in foreign countries)
    • Language immersion
    • Cheaper

Why I Think This Will Take Off

I’m going to provide four reasons why I think Minerva could be successful.

First, my youngest daughter went to college five years ago and she selected her college based on the opportunities the college offered to travel abroad. She spent a semester at the Beijing Foreign Studies University and it was a life-changing experience for her. She graduated with a degree in International Business and another in Chinese and is currently living in China. When I visited with her in Beijing last month, half of the students from her program had returned to China.  Schools now spend a lot of time teaching about a global communities, it only makes sense that there is a now a generation of students wanting to explore the opportunities and experiences to be had in other countries, like Minerva is promoting.

Second, during any visits to her University in the United States, the administration continually boasted about their oversees efforts to recruit foreign students to their University for an “American college education experience”. This is something I hear from every college and university administrator now.

Last month, while presenting at a Superintendents’ Regional conference, one of the senior faculty expressed concerns about all the new construction in light of a historical first dip in four-year college enrollment.

And only recently, when talking to a student resident contractor in Oregon, they told me 25% of all their housing is for foreign students.

Locally, at the University of Washington, they’ve welcomed more oversees students and embraced the higher out-of-state tuition they pay (allegedly in deference to local students).

If Minerva can attract the foreign students they’re looking to capture, and provide for greater experiences at a reduced cost, it seems only natural to me that the program would be popular with a foreign audience as well.

Third, there are still students who want  (and parents willing to go in debt for…choke) the “college experience” and Minerva may provide the best college experience for its students: living and learning together in metropolitan cities around the world without being tied to a singular geographical location and its associated high tuition. I’m sure there are those who would argue about the tradition and identity to be shared with a city or campus but, I’d suggest that the “anywhere, anytime, anyplace, any pace” that online learning pundits promote, makes this next step a natural extension where buildings are no longer the thing to be identified with when trumped by greater relationships, experiences, and learning.  Frankly, I’m amazed at the amount of construction on college campuses whose administrators pound their chests extolling the value of new facilities, when tuition rates are blasting through the stratosphere.
[Note: Kaplan’s Andrew Rosen writes about this in his book: Change.EDU:Rebooting for the New Talent Economy]

Lastly and simply: Cost.  Minerva is going to challenge the strength of the traditional institutions’ “branding” –a group who only recently jumped on-board in acceptance of online learning with MOOCS (but don’t yet have a business model) AND are still beyond the financial reach for a good majority of Americans.

I’ve written about this in recent posts (College Grads: The New Debt Slaves  and  Colleges Suing Their Own Students For Repayment, and Department of Education SWAT Team) as the amount of college debt skyrockets over a TRILLION dollars. Compound the debt with record levels of both unemployment and under-employment for college grads and one might wonder if pushing a 4-year college on a high school graduate is the right thing to do.

Economically, if Minerva doesn’t have the overhead associated with buildings and campus maintenance, and is able to provide the high-level instruction they’re working to attract, all while providing a world class learning experience, I believe they could be a fantastic option for students wanting a different kind of college experience.

An option I think will only become more of the norm.


As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts/comments– thank you!


About kevin

A long-time technology enthusiast who, in the mid 80's, thought the internet might be something that would catch-on, so he taught himself programming. That started him on a very satisfying road as a course developer, trainer, online teacher and elearning evangelist. Thirty years later, he fancies himself to be a "futurist" and "thought leader".... those thoughts are more about learning that doesn't involve expensive technology and a vision of the future that makes education more critical than ever! More information at: http://kevincorbett.com/who-is-kevin-corbett/