The Return of University Building in the US | VC Firm Backs New University | Minerva Project

25% of my time is spent researching university builders in the US. The people who funded, planned, and built Universities like Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan are among the greatest innovators in American history. Much of the funding for these great institutions came from wealthy philanthropists such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Tulane, Cornell, Hopkins, etc..

As Zoltan Acs highlights in his forthcoming book on the connection between philanthropy and entrepreneurship in the US, wealth creators have historically created opportunities for others. In many cases this was the building of great universities. In most cases, the funders did not interfere with the educational entrepreneurs they put in charge (Harper, Coit, etc).

Today, Inside Higher Education reports on the Minerva Project, a new ‘elite’ American university that has been launched. This is an interesting new start up in the higher education space and it doesn’t appear to be a philanthropic effort like past ‘elite’ universities. From Doug Lederman:

An entrepreneur who created the photo-sharing site Snapfish — backed by a star-studded list of advisers including Larry Summers and a $25 million investment from a leading venture capital firm — announced a plan Tuesday with a not-so-modest goal: creating “the first elite American university to be launched in a century.” The project is relatively skimpy on details at this stage, but a few of the new institution’s broadly drawn characteristics — for-profit; purely online instruction — might make many observers skeptical of its eventual success. But dig a little deeper and the idea sounds a little less wacky — and reasonable enough to have attracted traditionalists like Patrick Harker, president of the University of Delaware, and Lee Shulman, the former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, to its advisory board.

Later Lederman reports,

But the real test of its eliteness will come in its curriculum, which Nelson compared to “1950s University of Chicago.” It aims to hire top professors to create their own online lectures and course materials, and students will also dig into that material in 25-student interactive seminars led by instructors (Ph.D.s who favor teaching over research, for instance, not grad students). While the formal curriculum will be delivered online, students who choose to will live in dorms in major cities around the world, where they will gain from the same kind of peer encounters that enhance the education at liberal arts and other residential colleges.

Admitted students “will have to work like you’ve never worked in your life,” Nelson said. “It’s not that we’ll shower you with exceptionally advanced work, but that we’ll tickle every part of your brain. You’ll have to communicate well not just in written form, but in oral form, group work form. The reason that we are ‘elite’ is because this is a curriculum that is meant to be for the best of the best.”

Students who choose to undertake that curriculum will pay under $20,000 for the privilege, Nelson said — about half of what they’d pay at the Ivy League and other universities that currently define “elite” for most of us. (Those who choose the residential option would pay $11,000 more for room and board.)

The social component of universities, where value is provided by dense networks of talented people in and around the university, is crucial to the elite (exceptional value providing) status Minerva is chasing.

This is another great experiment in higher education, on the margins, that smart students, faculty, and administrators should be watching.

BTW, their twitter handle is @criticalwisdom and I appear to be their 2nd follower. Lets watch this one rise? Or not?

via $25 million investment backs startup aiming to create elite university | Inside Higher Ed.


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