Does higher education need reforming? According to the Minerva Project, it does. Founded on the belief that the current higher education system needs “stripping down,” the Minerva Project has recently matriculated its first students who will engage in an innovative way of learning that comes in a different package and at a lower price than other colleges offer.
Troubles in Higher Education
The financial headache involved with getting a higher education is no secret. College is expensive. Tuition prices increase annually and even with grants and scholarships, students- and parents- are left with overwhelming amounts of debt in the form of government and private loans.
Additionally, some argue that the current format of learning is outdated, particularly considering the advances in technology in recent years. Professors speak to a group of students in lectures, students are assigned homework and readings, and, if well organized, lectures consist of discussions. Class sizes vary, and larger classes usually make it more difficult for students to engage in lectures and be known by professors and classmates. Often, students are paying excessive amounts of money for an academic experience that’s less than ideal.
New Forms of Learning
In the last couple of years, other forms of learning have emerged as technology has progressed. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have brought countless free courses to anyone with an Internet connection. Online participants gain access to videos, readings, and problem sets, as well as an online community of students and professors across the world. Among these new learning resources are Khan Academy, Cousera, Udacity, and edX. While courses are offered free of charge, certificates can be purchased at a small fee for those students who wish to receive certification for completing a course. Instead of attending a lecture costing thousands of dollars, students can enjoy learning a topic of their choice, from a location of their choice, at little to no cost.
The Minerva Project
The Minerva Project takes online learning to a different level. Located in San Francisco, Minerva offers a four-year undergraduate degree program that replaces large lectures and passive online learning with live interactive seminars that students access on a learning platform through their personal laptops.
This is similar to MOOCs except that each course has a capped enrollment and requires active participation of every student throughout each class. No more than 20 students are enrolled in each course and students are randomly called on, required to defend their answers to discussion questions, and are quizzed on material.
The tuition rate at Minerva is $10,000 per academic year, which was covered by full scholarships for the first incoming class. This is a significant decrease compared to other colleges. Instead of providing organized student programs, Minerva schedules field trips to various locations that provide cultural experiences. Additionally, Minerva plans on opening several locations in different countries, which will provide students with valuable international experience that a lot of colleges don’t offer.
Currently, students can live in the dorms at the current San Francisco location, but there is no library, dining hall, gym, or other facilities found on a typical college campus. Why? Minerva’s goal is to provide a higher education experience that is void of excess. No lectures, no faculty tenure, no sports, no buildings for offices or community spaces, and most importantly, no huge tuition bills. Just active learning in a simple environment.
It’s too soon to tell whether the Minerva Project will be a success, but the program does attempt to provide a higher education experience completely unique to what we are used to. The program focuses on getting students to learn and uses technology as the learning tool. The biggest question that remains is whether a vital part of the educational experience is removed in the process.