Friday, April 13, 2012

Starting a new university

Inside Higher Ed has an article on the Minerva Project, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, about an attempt to start a new, elite, for-profit university: An Elite University ... From Scratch?

Some of the ideas sound interesting:
"Minerva plans to define elite differently, he said. Its students -- roughly 200 in the first year, planned for 2014, and it hopes many more in later years -- will be selected through a rigorous two-step process based on academic credentials (grades, test scores, essays, etc.) at a first, statistical level and then -- for those who move on -- an interview process focused on testing an applicant's drive, analytical skills and goals.

"Factors that may help a student get admitted to Princeton or Williams -- athletic skill, alumni connections, money -- won't play any role at Minerva, Nelson said. And because the process won't factor in geography, either, he said he expected that the vast majority of its students will come from outside the United States. "We won't discriminate based on state or country of origin, and the idea that the majority of the smartest English-speaking kids live in the U.S. is absurd," he said. "We're going to have the most racially diverse student body of any elite institution."

"But the real test of its eliteness will come in its curriculum, which Nelson compared to "1950s University of Chicago." It aims to hire top professors to create their own online lectures and course materials, and students will also dig into that material in 25-student interactive seminars led by instructors (Ph.D.s who favor teaching over research, for instance, not grad students). While the formal curriculum will be delivered online, students who choose to will live in dorms in major cities around the world, where they will gain from the same kind of peer encounters that enhance the education at liberal arts and other residential colleges."

That being said, it's a big task to found a new university, let alone an "elite" one.  As I wrote in an earlier post, Rankings of universities: vintages and coordination of expectations, regarding the rankings of American universities:
"the first place goes to the oldest American university, founded in 1636, and spots 2 and 3 go to universities established in 1746 (as the College of New Jersey), and 1701. Two universities that opened more than a century later, in 1861, and 1891 , are tied for 4th place. The two universities tied for 6th are of different vintages, 1891 and 1755, as are the three tied for 8th place, 17541838, and 1892. The top dozen ranks are filled out by universities open for business since 17691855, and 1856.

At number 17, Rice University, opened in 1912, seems to be the highest ranked university on the list to have begun in the 20th century."

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