An Ivy League Online University?
It may not be as outlandish as it seems. The Minerva University project aims to build a world-wide online university catering to the best and brightest students, providing them with online instruction from some of the world's best educators. Former Harvard president and Obama administration Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has signed on, adding legitimacy to the project. Recently, Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm, pored $25 million into the fledgling university.
Can Minerva University capture some of the prestige of the famous Ivy League institutions? I suspect they can. The reason prestigious universities are prestigious is because they offer affiliation with high-status educators and thinkers, while accepting only the most promising students. Companies like to hire Ivy League graduates because they have been certified as intelligent and hardworking by the universities that accept them.
But ultimately, the prestige factor works in more than one direction. Why would bright young students choose to go to Minerva instead of a brick-and-mortar university? One reason is that Minerva will likely be far more affordable than the elite traditional schools, where tuition can run more than $60,000 a year.
I have no doubt that a high-quality education can be administered online, but for Minerva University to succeed, they will have to demonstrate that their degrees have substantial value, that their students are bright and capable, and that they can attract high-quality educators.
If they succeed, the stigma attached to online education may be permanently removed, and more students will likely choose to pursue these more-affordable online degrees. Traditional schools will feel the pressure to lower their sky-rocketing tuition rates, and everybody will be a great deal better off. If Minerva succeeds, a new era of affordable, high-quality education will begin. If that happens, society as a whole will certainly be better for the change.