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Education The Almighty Buck

Inside Minerva, a Silicon Valley Bid To Start an Elite College Online 85

An anonymous reader writes with this article about The Minerva Project, a for-profit company now backed with more than $95 million from Silicon Valley venture-capital firms. Its goal is both audacious and unprecedented in the recent history of higher education: to build a name-brand, elite, liberal-arts-focused university that would cost about half of what Ivy League institutions charge. There's no campus, and all the classes take place online, but the students all live near each other in San Francisco. As small liberal-arts colleges like Sweet Briar shut down, is this campusless college the future?
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Inside Minerva, a Silicon Valley Bid To Start an Elite College Online

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why should the students all live in San Francisco if it's an -online- college? Also, would be nice to have an article that isn't behind a paywall.

    • You don't get the point of liberal arts education. It's all about the PARTY.

    • Because education needs to be expensive, and if you're not spending a lot on the education itself then you should at least move to one of the places with the highest cost of living in the US.
    • Non-profit... for-profit... lotsa profit, online, on campus... it's all just the tail wagging the dog if the education leaves you spending most of the rest of your working life paying for it, which is what it's become. Yes, the educational system is in for a big bubble-busting disruptive technology that will put the vast majority of those overpaid uni execs on unemployment. The name of the bubble buster is Khan Academy, and once it gets up to speed-- and it's getting there fast-- this country as well as
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 07, 2015 @12:26PM (#49204779)

    If I'm forced to live in San Fran, my room and board is going to cost more than if I had gone to a normal college.

    • If I'm forced to live in San Fran...

      I know we on Slashdot don't RTFA. Sometimes we don't even RTFS. But I think this is the first case of not reading the fucking title, specifically the last word.

      • Do me a favor and please explain this sentence for me: "... but the students all live near each other in San Francisco"

    • If I'm forced to live in San Fran, my room and board is going to cost more than if I had gone to a normal college.

      Have you seen what ivy league schools charge for housing?

  • Networking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by F34nor ( 321515 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @12:33PM (#49204809)

    The people you meet in college are similar to goodwill in accounting.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I would bet that the dollar cost of a Harvard education has less to do with the education and more with the people you will go to college with.

      I'd bet that at least for the liberal arts part of it, you could probably hire luminaries in the liberal arts fields and gain private instruction for less than many elite Universities.

    • The people you meet in college are similar to goodwill in accounting.

      Largely fictional and generally worthless?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 07, 2015 @12:42PM (#49204869)

    Online classes follow the in person paradigm: lecture and then homework. Paying attention to video lectures on a computer is just impossible for me. There is no interaction - at least in an in-person lecture, the lecturer will ask questions or call on you.

    And then, getting feedback is difficult. My biggest bone to pick with Coursera is that you cannot discuss answers to homework or test questions.

    In one class, I got all the practice problems correct but on the exam, I couldn't get the correct answer - even after my 4 tries allowed. Others had the same problem and others didn't. Where did we go wrong? To this day, I do not know.

    If I couldn't get the exam problem correct, then I don't think I understood the concept.

    And then there are the snarky comments like, "You don't belong here!".

    After reporting it, nothing was done. I assumed that it must have been a TA that posted it. A snarky TA?

    Never happens! /s

    I have taken other online classes and they just don't cut it. Nothing beats having a real live person teach, for me anyway. I need that human contact.

    • by myid ( 3783581 )

      In-person back-and-forth interaction with the teacher is faster than online interaction. But one advantage of online over in-person is that you can ask questions any time, not just during the teacher's office hours.

      In an ed2go.com class, you can discuss the homework online, but not the test questions. You can post your code online, and the teacher (and sometimes a student) will tell you what your mistake was. I've taken lots of classes from them. I was happy with most (not all) of my class's teachers.

      • by sabri ( 584428 )

        In-person back-and-forth interaction with the teacher is faster than online interaction. But one advantage of online over in-person is that you can ask questions any time, not just during the teacher's office hours.

        In an ed2go.com class, you can discuss the homework online, but not the test questions. You can post your code online, and the teacher (and sometimes a student) will tell you what your mistake was. I've taken lots of classes from them. I was happy with most (not all) of my class's teachers.

        I graduated from Western Governors University [wgu.edu] last year and got my master's degree. Everything was online, with the exception of the graduation party.

        Teachers were just a phone call or e-mail away. And because they did not have to attend any classes either, they were usually *always* available. Some of them even in the weekends (since that's when most people study, next to their daytime jobs) until the late hours.

        I did a two year program in less than 18 months. Try that with your traditional on-campus u

    • Online classes follow the in person paradigm: lecture and then homework. Paying attention to video lectures on a computer is just impossible for me.

      That's part of the problem - video lectures. You want to receive information at a rate that is throttled by the talking head on screen? I completed an entire degree without seeing a single video or going for a single lecture. That was a decade ago. Now I try to learn from some coursera video and find that, maddeningly, they fail to provide transcripts of the video. Rewinding a video to re-digest something is much less effective than simply flipping pages.

      But, yeah, videos are becoming a problem - people are

  • Elite? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @12:43PM (#49204877) Homepage

    How do create an "elite" college from nothing?
    Isn't that officious title something a college has to earn?

    • by bmajik ( 96670 )

      I don't think the distinction you're making is as bright of a line as many people wish it were.

      When you think of "for profit" college, do you think of the motivations? The governance? The educational results?

      I look at "normal" colleges and I see many examples of
      - bad motivations: if you don't think "normal" colleges aren't motivated by the wrong things, look at how much money gets pumped into athletics programs. look at how much money goes to administrative stafff. look at how much money goes to buildin

    • The whole non-profit thing is a scam anyway just like non-profit healthcare. It's just a ruse to avoid taxes. Everyone involved in a non-profit makes money. It's just the accounting.

  • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @12:48PM (#49204899)
    The only real difference between an "elite" college and another one is reputation. They have more money and oftentimes more famous faculty and students, but these things just come as a result of the famous name. So how do you get the name? Mostly by being old. Strike against Minerva there... I was going to do this whole contrived "three strikes" metaphor, but this just isn't necessary: Minerva is for-profit, that's really all you need to know to see that this is another diploma mill. You'd have a better chance of your degree meaning something if you got it from Udacity. They don't offer full degrees, of course, but maybe some day?
    • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @01:07PM (#49205005)

      Another major difference between colleges is the interaction with other students. For example at Caltech you are in an environment where it is normal to study for a few hours every night, and where scientific discussions are common, you will get more mental exercise and learn more. An elite liberal arts school will likely provide equivalent benefits.

      Then, while less "pure", the contact you make at an elite school are very valuable in your future career .

      • An elite liberal arts school will likely provide equivalent benefits.

        Yep; a high THC level in your bloodstream.

    • by pepty ( 1976012 )
      See upthread:

      The people you meet in college are similar to goodwill in accounting.

      At an elite school you will live and study with incredibly intelligent and ambitious students who are already beginning to have an impact in their fields before they get their BS/PhD. Your professors will include Nobel laureates who may well have invented your field of study. Together they will shape your approach to your studies and your career. Of course, that's elite in science/technology, not "elite" as defined by Minerva's PR firm.

    • The "real" difference between elite colleges and other ones is that elite colleges produce graduates who succeed in the real world. How many Harvard graduates head Fortune 500 companies? How many graduates from ITT do? How many graduates go on to get PhDs or MDs? How many win Nobel prizes?

      The reputation of the college you went to doesn't get you on board of directors. It doesn't get you the job of President of a prestigious universities. It doesn't command million dollar salaries on Wall Street. Those hav
      • by guises ( 2423402 )

        The reputation of the college you went to doesn't get you [all of the things that are influenced by the reputation of the college that you went to]

        I don't know what you're smoking here, you've clearly never applied for a job on Wall Street. That is literally the second thing the headhunter will ask you, right after: "Is it legal for you to work in the US?"

        Certainly, the name doesn't get you those things by itself - the greatest correlating factor with a person's salary is the wealth of their parents. But the name of their school is up there.

        • I have applied to plenty of Wall Street jobs. Yes, what college you went to comes up, and even gets used as a filter at some places. It can get you in the door for the interview but reputation is not going to get you to the executive suite.

          Elites are elite for a reason, they give you the knowledge, tools and connections to be successful.
  • by RalphSlate ( 128202 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @01:01PM (#49204969) Homepage

    I'm not sure if the people who try things like this are stupid, or think that everyone else is stupid.

    College is not the equivalent of training. It is an experience that transforms people during a period of time when they are still able to be transformed. Some of that is about learning specific things that you will need later. A lot more is about the ability to train yourself to learn specific things that you may never need later - so the training is the valuable thing, not the knowledge. More is about learning how to take on experiences, but in a sandbox environment, trying things that you could not easily do elsewhere. Getting involved in clubs and activities. Being a DJ on a radio station. Learning how to live with others in close quarters. Learning how to both succeed and to fail.

    Coupled with that is the exposure to people who are not you. Creatively mixing your thoughts with others in a relaxed, informal setting. Broadening your horizons. Still in a sandbox though, because you're going to screw up. You're going to piss people off. You're going to make mistakes.

    I still remember the lesson I learned in my "contract negotiation" class, when my negotiating team was up against a team made up mostly of hockey players. My team, representing "labor", with one older guy on it who probably was in a union, decided that it would be a good strategy to play hardball with the other team ("management") because the older guy surmised that the hockey players could not afford to come to a stalemate because a failing grade would bounce them off the team. The strategy worked, but I was disgusted with the tactic, so I wrote a paper outlining the problems with this negotiating approach.

    That sandbox is the part of college that is the most expensive. I'd guess that it costs more than half of the entire cost of the "education". That means this for-profit company is trying to take advantage of people who naively believe that "college" is just about a credential, a piece of paper that says you met a minimum set of requirements. An online "college" can not offer most of what a campus-based college offers. It can only offer the "training" part, plus maybe a little of the "learning how to learn" part.

    • the "tactic" actually sounded pretty smart to me, and say what you will, the "older guy" definitely understood how to negotiate in the "real" world.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 )

        the "tactic" actually sounded pretty smart to me, and say what you will, the "older guy" definitely understood how to negotiate in the "real" world.

        Difficult and abusive negotiations are not the path to repeat business.

        • by Xel ( 84370 )

          But repeat business isn't important in today's economy. It's
          1. Create a concept..
          2. Market the concept.
          3. Sell out to Google, Samsung, Apple, or Comcast.
          4. Let them worry about repeat business.

    • and if that team where people on the football or basketball team then they would not be at risk of a failing grade at all. Also now days the NCAA will likely them to be far from any union talk

    • Sounds like you believe what the brochure said hook line and sinker. There is no definition of college that says it has to be all those things... clubs, sports, dorms. You can go to college just to learn, and maybe at a school that doesn't spend crazy amounts of money on non academic things.
    • by Xel ( 84370 )

      Unfortunately, people who go to for-profit colleges end up as middle managers, HR admins and hiring agents. You know, the people who read your resumes and discard them if they don't have those credentials. Its all about the certificate, just completely skip over anything like real world experience, imagination, innovation, ability to improvise, people skills, etc etc etc.

  • by D-Fly ( 7665 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @01:04PM (#49204989) Homepage Journal
    This is not really a purely online college, as the poster describes. It's an interesting mix between online and offline: all the students are supposed to live together; they do their classes on computers. The physical location can change annually too. The Atlantic had a better article about Minerva a couple of months ago, and it's not behind a paywall: http://www.theatlantic.com/fea... [theatlantic.com] What's really interesting is the instant and continuous feedback from the professor described here as the Minerva method. It sounds like truly scientific learning, a much better technique than the big lecture hall format, with students zoning out half the time.
    • a much better technique than the big lecture hall format, with students zoning out half the time.

      whoa, whoa there. I had to tough out falling asleep along with every other student in my class. Faking attention through extremely boring lectures by boring people *IS* one of the most valuable workplace skills out there. I haven't read the article or the summary but I'm beyond certain it's a recipe for failure if it dosent address the important aspects of college education.

    • Thanks for the link. Sounds like the key to Minerva is their platform that promises to be more interactive and engaging than the traditional lecture hall style classes.

      I think it has potential. However, an overall college experience has much more to do with knowledge and learning.. It's about the people you meet. It's not clear whether Minerva has an edge in that regard.

  • The highest reasonable price would be that of a cheap community college. The price of an Ivy League is due to the value of the networking (both your peers, instructors and alumni).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "We can have X without physically-necessary-for-it-to-work Y!"

  • . . . DoD/CIA, dood!
  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @04:31PM (#49206119)
    To me there are two kinds of elite. The classic one that generally serves only the rich elites is a university that is very hard to get into.

    But the second kind would be one where they teach hard things to high levels and thus it is hard to graduate from. With an online scenario it could be possible to let pretty much everyone in and let the actual courses be the filter.

    That said, I have a nephew who recently graduated from a third rate university's engineering program. Basically they taught them shit but worked them to the bone. If you didn't have a fantastic work ethic and discipline then you may very well not complete the course. But the engineering skills learned would be borderline useless.

    So what I would love with an online truly elite university would be basically opensource courses. That is all the materials, videos, tests, etc would be published. This way they would have trouble concealing the fact that their course sucked.
  • I bet the VCs will own all the IP. Faculty will all be pundits and TED-talk allstars. And the graduates will be working for daddy.
  • I suspect that primary education will be heavily impacted by computer learning at home. it is a political issue which pits breeding families against those who desire to pay less taxes. It will also hit minorities and non traditional families far harder than upper middle class families and suppression of minorities seems to be an actual goal in the US. When it comes to colleges our system has degraded and college students are now a divided group with non academic types out numbering more

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