What the combination of the internet and greater access to mobile has enabled is, when you stop to think about it, is very remarkable. The access to information has become extremely fast and easy, and the data we can access through the internet gets updated so frequently at a very low cost. This phenomenon has led to two important results:
- Having knowledge on the top of one’s mind is not as hard, and therefore not as valuable as before.
- It is becoming increasingly important what one does with knowledge rather than if one has knowledge.
One class of traditional institution is facing a very large challenge due to the two conclusions made above: Higher education systems are not adding a lot of value to students by only teaching hard skills that are very easy to acquire from the internet and must shift their value proposition to continue adding value to the society. The last few years have seen a boom in ed-tech startups, like Coursera, Udacity, and Codecademy, all of which focus heavily on teaching students the skills they need to land or switch jobs.1 As content knowledge becomes more accessible, the skill of the modern academic must shift away from being an distributor of knowledge to being an integrator of knowledge, creating more personalized conditions that help students learn.2
The Minerva Project – A new globalized way of higher education
The Minerva Project and its founder Ben Nelson, the former CEO of Snapfish, are making a very prominent step towards the new way of higher education. What Minerva offers, according to their website, is ‘an innovative undergraduate program that combines four years of world travel with rigorous, interdisciplinary study 3’.
The founding idea of Minerva is that in a world where information is never more than a click away, what matters most is not what you know. The critical thing is how you analyze and interpret that information. Therefore, the school is strictly against teaching any hard skills. You won’t find any of the typical 101 courses in its freshman curriculum. The first-year students take courses with curious names such as “Empirical Analysis” and “Multimodal Communication” instead. The entire first year at Minerva is dedicated to teaching three vital things only: critical thinking, creative thinking, and effective communication.1
To facilitate the education of world leaders, Minerva Institute offers a global experience facilitated by digital tools and small group learning: All of Minerva’s classes are live seminars with less than 20 students to a professor. All classes are conducted using live video conferencing platform that enables the institute to easily incorporate the latest science of learning techniques – small group learning, instant feedback, polling, etc. After their first year in California, students travel to seven major cities around the world for the rest of their 4-year education. The system values the ‘city as your campus’ approach to the traditional campus life.4
In this business (or teaching, if you will) model, the critical customer (or student) promises of Minerva are accessibility and diversity. Since the school is not limited by campus space, once any American or international student passes the bar set by school, they are in. The founder Ben Nelson notes: “What will never happen at Minerva is a student who is qualified who meets our bar but we say, ‘we already have too many of you, so you’re rejected,'”. In alignment with this promise, the school’s annual tuition is only $10,000, much lower than a typical Ivy league program.5
What will define future success?
The sustainability of the program will be determined by financial viability and demand sustainability in the long term.
For the first point, Minerva hopes, by being narrowly focused, appealing to a huge pool of untapped demand, and dramatically reducing costs by eliminating the traditional campus, they can be a big player in that business and have a sustainable financial structure.5
For the latter, the determinant will be how successful Minerva is in preparing the students for life after school, mainly for their careers. The best way to measure this is seeing the recruiter interest in hiring from the institution. The school currently has relationships with a set of top global organizations across a variety of categories. The school notes that ‘… through regular consultation with this advisory group, […] the skills you learn are directly applicable to employers.’ Very reputable players across industries such as McKinsey & Co. , Google, Goldman Sachs, Dalberg currently sit on the advisory board.6
Still, for all its pedagogical complexity, it’s still possible that the corporate world just won’t buy into this new experiment in education. The educational system involves a lot of legacy that is hard to change. We will hopefully be able to better assess the future success once the school produces its first graduates in 2019.