The Roman Goddess of Wisdom Will be Watching

For a few social media entrepreneurs, fortunes have been made off of our love for sharing our thoughts and photos in virtual spaces. 

It is refreshing to see that some of that money is being put toward transforming higher education models. 

Snapfish CEO Ben Nelson has put his financial resources behind for-profit Minerva University, and the school will open its doors in San Francisco in the fall of this year with the promise of offering an Ivy League-caliber education for a fraction of the cost: $10,000 per year, not including travel costs associated with a global immersion graduation requirement that will have students changing world locations (as yet unspecified) every semester. 

While for-profit education models have not yet yielded the desired results, even those within the ranks of higher education are starting to see the end of the current higher education paradigm. Just last week, Clay Shirky of New York University published a blog post forecasting “The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age.” 

Shirky says that tenured professors have been complacent at best or complicit at worst as state funding cuts have led to skyrocketing tuitions and caste systems on college campuses that exploited graduate students or non-tenured colleagues. You can essentially hear Shirky argue in favor of something along the lines of what Minerva Institute is pledging to offer at various points in his post, including the following: 

If we can’t keep raising costs for students (we can’t) and if no one is coming to save us (they aren’t), then the only remaining way to help these students is to make a cheaper version of higher education for the new student majority.

While Minerva’s Web site qualifies its existence as “*Pending WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) Approval,” there is plenty to lend it credibility in scholarly circles and in competing for the best and brightest in the college admissions arena.

ImageMinerva Dean Stephen Kosslyn is a former Harvard University Dean of Behavioral Sciences. The school will essentially be run through the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the highly respected undergraduate liberal arts group known as the Claremont University Consortium.

After their first year in San Francisco, students will study in a different location in the world each semester. Presumably, much of the content would be delivered online through both LMS and other virtual spaces, with a small number of teaching faculty facilitating the learning process on site. 

Shirky’s blog post is a shot across the bow, to say the least, of higher ed as it exists today. Nelson’s resources make it possible for him to do much more than blog about the need for change in higher education. And, even if he hopes to capitalize off the venture, Nelson has made a decision to put his financial resources into something that offers the promise of transforming higher education to better suit the means and needs of the overwhelming majority of today’s students.

They will be competing in a global economy when they graduate. Having had a variety of cross-cultural, immersive experiences will certainly work to their advantage. Having accumulated a lot of debt along the way will not. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, I celebrate Nelson, Kosslyn, and all the others working to make Minerva succeed. I feel certain that the Roman goddess of wisdom will be watching to see how this unfolds. 


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