Welcome to Minerva University; No Lectures, No Tenure, No Affirmative Action

A new type of university is opening in San Francisco this month. It will provide no lectures, offer no tenure, and affirmative action is banned. It utilises the best methods of pedagogy that world-renowned cognitive psychologist Stephen Kosslyn has found in a long and prolific career. The approach utilises the best of the new and the old. Its founders expect Minerva to be a significant threat to the elite university system within just a few years.

And Minerva students will travel to a different location each year, bringing “immersive learning” to new levels.

Minerva is an accredited university with administrative offices and a dorm in San Francisco, and it plans to open locations in at least six other major world cities… Minerva, which operates for profit, started teaching its inaugural class of 33 students this month. To seed this first class with talent, Minerva gave every admitted student a full-tuition scholarship of $10,000 a year for four years, plus free housing in San Francisco for the first year. Next year’s class is expected to have 200 to 300 students, and Minerva hopes future classes will double in size roughly every year for a few years after that.

Those future students will pay about $28,000 a year, including room and board, a $30,000 savings over the sticker price of many of the schools—the Ivies, plus other hyperselective colleges like Pomona and Williams—with which Minerva hopes to compete.

… Applicants to Minerva take a battery of online quizzes, including spatial-reasoning tests of the sort one might find on an IQ test… If students perform well enough, Minerva interviews them over Skype and makes them write a short essay during the interview, to ensure that they aren’t paying a ghost writer. “The top 30 applicants get in,” he told me back in February, slicing his hand through the air to mark the cutoff point.

Each year, according to Minerva’s plan, they’ll attend university in a different place, so that after four years they’ll have the kind of international experience that other universities advertise but can rarely deliver. By 2016, Berlin and Buenos Aires campuses will have opened. Likely future cities include Mumbai, Hong Kong, New York, and London. Students will live in dorms with two-person rooms and a communal kitchen. They’ll also take part in field trips organized by Minerva, such as a tour of Alcatraz with a prison psychologist. Minerva will maintain almost no facilities other than the dorm itself—no library, no dining hall, no gym—and students will use city parks and recreation centers, as well as other local cultural resources, for their extracurricular activities. __ http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/08/the-future-of-college/375071/

Minerva does not use MOOCs — in fact it limits class size to 19 students. All classes are taught in an intensive “seminar style,” using a proprietary platform developed uniquely for Minerva.

Minerva strips education down to its bare essentials. And if it succeeds, that is something that traditional bricks and mortar schools will not like.

Students begin their Minerva education by taking the same four “Cornerstone Courses,” which introduce core concepts and ways of thinking that cut across the sciences and humanities. These are not 101 classes, meant to impart freshman-level knowledge of subjects. (“The freshman year [as taught at traditional schools] should not exist,” Nelson says, suggesting that MOOCs can teach the basics. “Do your freshman year at home.”) Instead, Minerva’s first-year classes are designed to inculcate what Nelson calls “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts,” which are the basis for all sound systematic thought. In a science class, for example, students should develop a deep understanding of the need for controlled experiments. In a humanities class, they need to learn the classical techniques of rhetoric and develop basic persuasive skills. The curriculum then builds from that foundation.

As Minerva students advance, they choose one of five majors: arts and humanities, social sciences, computational sciences, natural sciences, or business. ___ http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/08/the-future-of-college/375071/

The five areas of study encourage inter-disciplinary thinking, creating solid foundations of thought — then building from that. From the description in the article above, it appears that the Minerva curriculum aims to teach students to think for themselves — a welcome departure from the “indoctrination system” adopted by tenured professors in many elite bricks and mortar universities. The world needs more thinking skeptics, and fewer cloned hive minds.

Minerva is just now beginning, and time will provide the true test of merit. But it is encouraging to see some of the promising findings from neuroscience and cognitive psychology finding their way into educational curricula. It is likewise good to see more schools basing admissions upon aptitude rather than racial, gender, and other superfluous criteria.

The main criticism we at the Al Fin Foundation for the Dangerous Child offer, is that such training should begin earlier in life. Much earlier.

Conventional universities have been corrupted by politics and have lost their way

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