Minerva Project Uses MOOCs to Cut College Costs

Massive open online courses are reshaping the way America views the “typical” college classroom — and the Minerva Project is working to make that shift matter.

The Minerva project is a new university which uses an MOOC approach to eliminate costs associated with traditional colleges.  While the college does offer a city campus with small classes, there is no tenure, no large buildings, no sports, and no lectures.  Students are taught without frills through digital exchange in interactive seminars, some of which will be taught online through a video conferencing system.

“We don’t necessarily know how to teach you to be a better orthodontist or a better tax accountant,” Ben Nelson, Minerva’s founder, tells the daily London Independent. “We innovate in teaching you how to think, how to be creative, how to communicate effectively — and how to lead.” Too much time and moneyin the old system is spent on disseminating knowledge, which is already freely available on the Internet. It can be elicited in dialogue with smart teachers and savvy kids.

Minerva’s first class contains 33 students, but the founders expect that number to rise to 300 by next year.  Because there are no frills associated with a traditional brick-and-mortar campus, tuition, room and board are all priced at $28,000.  To attract more students, which are carefully hand-selected, first-year freshmen are receiving $10,000 tuition scholarships for four years, as well as free room and board in their first year.

Minerva currently has a small campus in San Francisco.  The company expects to open campuses in New York, London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Hong Kong in coming years that students will travel to across their four-year studies.

MOOC courses offer college-level material on a variety of subjects in an online format.  Peer review is offered in a number of the courses, which end with an online exam.

“There are two aspects to MOOCs. A technology platform that can enable new pedagogy and mode of delivery that increases the reach to a much larger audience,” says SS Balasubramaniam, dean, academic and resource planning, BITS Pilani. He added that a number of aspects of MOOCs complement conventional learning and open up new modes of learning. Such courses are likely to benefit students of various age groups, he says.

Traditional universities are also looking at ways to utilize MOOCs.  Georgia Tech has reworked the technology to offer a $6,000 master’s degree in computer science, featuring short video lectures and online coursework.

Other universities are still deciding on how best to apply the technology.

Because the courses are online, students can pause and rewatch sections of the courses as many times as they need until they fully understand the information.  Just as importantly, this can be done anywhere, allowing for complete flexibility based on the student’s needs and schedules.

Students must choose carefully, as some courses allow you to work at your own pace while others adhere to a strict schedule.  Some courses offer course completion certificates, and some do not.

MOOCs were originally viewed as a way for everyone to afford a college education.  However, low student numbers within the online courses and the fact that most of those who do sign up for them already hold a college degree, have educators rethinking how best to use the new format.