“Too much of undergrad education is the dissemination of basic information that at that level of student you should expect them to know,” he says. “We just feel we don’t have any moral standing to charge you thousands of dollars for learning what you can learn for free.” Legacy universities move students to their degrees through packed, required lecture classes, which Mr. Nelson calls their “profit pools.” And yes, he adds, all schools are about raking in money, even if most don’t pay taxes by claiming “not-for-profit” status.In the Nelson dream curriculum, all incoming students take the same four yearlong courses. His common core won’t make students read the Great Books. “We want to teach you how to think,” Mr. Nelson says. A course on “multimodal communications” works on practical writing and debating skills. A “formal systems class” goes over “everything from logic to advanced stats, Big Data, to formal reasoning, to behavioral econ.Over the next three years, Minervaites take small, discussion-heavy seminars via video from their various locations. Classes will be taped and used to critique not only how students handle the subjects, but also how they apply the reasoning and communication skills taught freshman year.
Some of Minerva’s ideas look attractive, while some make us look askance. Most notably, the plans to eschew a traditional campus and have students move to major city in a different country each semester make us wary. We are old fashioned enough to believe that one thing young Americans urgently need to be educated about is the United States. We’re not sure that an ultra-cosmopolitan university with no observed ties to any religious or spiritual tradition of any depth in which students flit from San Francisco to Singapore is going to produce graduates who can get much done outside of places like Davos. Education is also socialization.So though far from perfect, at least Minerva and its backers are looking seriously at the state of higher ed and thinking about how to make things better. Too many schools are just trying to make the old model work a little longer. That’s just not going to cut it in the 21st century.