A New Type of University Experience

A new twist in the online learning model is emerging in California and it will become quite a test case for future programs. Minerva Schools of KGI, an experimental university in San Francisco, is starting to form its first freshman class for the coming fall. The school is a joint effort between Minerva Project (a for-profit company) and Keck Graduate Institute (one of California’s Claremont colleges).
The idea is as follows. While all classes will be held online, first-year students have to live in the residence hall in San Francisco and take some classes together in real time. Research has shown that online courses often fail to retain students and to create ownership over the work. This model is attempting to combat those issues. As Stephen Kosslyn, Minerva’s founding dean and the former dean of social sciences at Harvard, said “We are entirely focused on active learning.” As he explained, this would mean that, prior to each class, students will have to complete assignments that will require participation. They might need to prepare for a debate, present their work or other active activities.
For being part of a cutting-edge experiment, students in the first class will have free tuition for all four years. They will, however, need to pay $19,000 for annual room and board.
The university has been working on the new curriculum since Kosslyn came on board in March. They are also assisted by Minerva’s chairman, former Snapfish president Ben Nelson.
Some of the ideas at Minerva include programs that have fallen out of favor in many other spheres. For instance, all freshmen will have core classes and no electives. They will spend their first year taking four classes that will teach communication, creative thinking, collaboration and critical analysis.
After the first year, students will then select traditional majors in fields that include economics, philosophy and computer science.
Minerva already has the four deans for the core courses in place. They are still hiring professors for the other positions and plan to hire faculty from around the world. They will not, however, offer tenure but will have short-term contracts. It anticipates a ration of approximately 16-17 students for each faculty member.
There is one more catch. During the course of the four-year program, students will be expected to move to other cities where Minerva has resident facilities. As Nelson said, “Experiential learning is all about interacting with the world around you. That is done best when you are immersed in the best the world has to offer as opposed to living in a cocoon.”

They expect 15-38 students in their inaugural class. Time will tell if they succeed.