New university aims to reshape classroom

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A local entrepreneur is offering an attractive deal to attend a university without having to ever sit in a classroom.

What if you could attend a prestigious college and never have to sit in a classroom? Would you do it? A local entrepreneur is attracting a lot of attention with a new university that's changing how people think about going to college.

On busy Market Street an education revolution is underway. The Minerva Project, named for the Roman goddess of wisdom, is hoping to change the way people think about college.

Entrepreneur Ben Nelson believes traditional universities are failing students. So he created his own.

"Universities were not meant to get their graduates jobs, but actually to train people to run the major institutions in society and train them how to think and make decisions, how to work with other people - and I realized that universities aren't doing that anymore," said Nelson.

Nelson added, "I decided rather than try to reform universities from within, to stand up the greatest university from scratch and serve as a beacon for other universities to follow."

What he's come up with is a proprietary online experience. Students interact with each other from anywhere in the world.

The curriculum was created in part by Stephen Kosslyn, one of the world's top psychologists. He is also a former Harvard dean.

"We have focused on what we think of as great cognitive tools. The tools that will allow our students to be successful after they graduate," said Kosslyn. "We use technology that has been developed here hand in glove with the science of learning."

Gabriella Grahek is from Los Angeles. She said, "There's not a single class that goes by where you're not called on by the teacher, not only once, most likely many times."

Students went through a rigorous admissions process and come from around the globe. They say they don't miss the traditional college experience.

Grahek said, "For the last four years of high school, I really felt like I was stuck. I wasn't moving forward with how I was using my mind, and what Minerva is doing is taking this potential and just helping you reach your maximum."

At Minerva the learning process requires students to move and live in cities around the globe, using those cities as expanded classrooms.

Joy Okoro is from Nigeria. She said, "I knew only about other cultures like from what I saw on TV, or what I am bothering to go up and read on my own, so I considered being exposed to all these different cultures was something that was really interesting for me."

The Minerva Project is fully accredited in partnership with the Keck Graduate Institute in Southern California.

The first class of 28 students started this year. To get things off the ground, Minerva is paying their tuition for four years. It is also paying their housing costs in San Francisco for the first year.

Next year, Minerva hopes to admit two to three hundred students with hopes of doubling that number every year after. Future students will pay about $28,000 for tuition and housing. Nelson says he hopes his idea will catch on, changing the way we look at universities forever.

"When a new university started, when Johns Hopkins for example started in the 1870's, it was the first German-style research university launched in the United States and within a decade it changed the face of all of American higher education," Nelson said.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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