Tag Archives: Minerva

What Would Make Higher Education Better?


There is a good article in the Atlantic on Minerva, a new type of university. If you don’t have time to read it, I’ve pasted excerpts at the bottom of this post, which will give you the gist.

When I think about what would make higher education better, here’s a list that comes to mind:

  1. Students will learn more because of better instruction and higher accountability. Right now many colleges are basically an entrance exam + a four year long test of conscientiousness (do you go to class and study enough to not make an ass of yourself on an exam or paper?). This could improve if the incentives changed (probably by new entrants into the market forcing the issue). 
  2. College will be cheaper. Because the college premium is real, from an individual’s perspective, so long as you graduate, college is a very good deal. However, there seems to be much wasting of resources, which taxpayers subsidize. A lower cost would be beneficial.
  3. Quality will scale. Yes, top universities in the United States are pretty good – but how difficult is to produce some value when you cluster students and professsors with extreme intelligence on one campus? Not very. I am eager to see quality increase in the universities ranked 100-700.
  4. Consumption and social practice will continue. College is not just about academic learning, it’s also about consumption (having some fun) and social practice (navigating the emotional world). These things should continue, though perhaps with reduced emphasis. In hindsight, I spent too much time on consumption during my college days, which I really do regret (I thought it would make me happier than it did, though perhaps there’s only one way to learn that lesson).
  5. The tension between status and weirdness will decrease. Right now, families know they are buying a credential. This makes it potentially very risky to go to a university such as Minerva, which is “weird” (though Minerva is doing everything they can to brand themselves as high status). I think we will see much more diversity in university types once a few different types break into the mainstream.

In considering these factors, Minerva seems like a welcome addition.

What do you think would make higher education better? Drop a note in the comments.

Also, HT to Bryan Caplan for raising many of these issues over the past (though I’m not sure he’d fully agree with my take).

Here’s the excerpts:

Bonabeau led the class like a benevolent dictator, subjecting us to pop quizzes, cold calls, and pedagogical tactics that during an in-the-flesh seminar would have taken precious minutes of class time to arrange.

The pedagogical best practices Kosslyn has identified have been programmed into the Minerva platform so that they are easy for professors to apply. They are not only easy, in fact, but also compulsory, and professors will be trained intensively in how to use the platform.

Nelson’s long-term goal for Minerva is to radically remake one of the most sclerotic sectors of the U.S. economy, one so shielded from the need for improvement that its biggest innovation in the past 30 years has been to double its costs and hire more administrators at higher salaries.

The other taboo Nelson ignores is acknowledgment of profit motive. “As if nonprofits aren’t money-driven!” he howled. “They’re just corporations that dodge their taxes.”

One possibility is that Minerva will fail because a college degree, for all the high-minded talk of liberal education— of lighting fires and raising thoughtful citizens—is really just a credential.