The curriculum will be offered online, with each class broken into two parts: First, Minerva will contract an established professor — most likely from a top university — to create a proprietary online lecture. It then will hire teachers to run online, interactive seminars for no more than 25 students per class — based on the lecture. Kind of like breakout sessions, except that the teachers all will hold advanced degrees, rather than be current graduate students.
Lovely. People who would otherwise be adjunct faculty and might at least have had their own classrooms are going to be used as online teaching assistants. What’s ironic about this is that this is supposed to be a high-end online college (if such a thing is even possible). Yet since Minerva is also for-profit, instructor (as opposed to lecturer) pay is likely going to be worse for these Ph.D. TAs than it is for graduate student TAs at better programs. Ed at Gin and Tacos is perplexed about where his students’ money originated. Minerva will solve that problem by making sure that instructors can’t see their students displays of conspicuous consumption. Then everybody will be happy, right?
I kid, but I still think there’s reason to be worried about this kind of operation. Because this is supposed to appeal to America’s elite, Minerva is making the right kind of cooing sounds in order to make it seem as if this is going to be a serious academic institution:
“There are lots of people out there with PhDs who haven’t been able to find work because they either don’t like research or aren’t very good at it,” [CEO Ben] Nelson says. “But they may be great, knowledgeable teachers — and those are the people we’re looking for… If they disagree with the lecture, or offer a different perspective on the subject matter, we will encourage it. We’re trying to teach students how to think, not just how to listen and repeat.”
For-profit education to the rescue? I don’t think so. I agree with UD on why this enterprise is doomed for failure:
[O]nce a person who’s qualified for Harvard is turned down, she doesn’t start looking for online schools. She goes to Cornell (or any of a healthy number of other very good to great schools) instead.
However, an existing not-for-profit university is eventually going to come up with a model to replace (comparatively) high-payed tenured professors with an entirely adjunct workforce. Maybe it will be online. Maybe it won’t be. Either way, having a bunch of impoverished people around willing to do what you do for a lot less money is not good for anybody’s long term economic well-being.
If we don’t hang together, we’ll all hang separately.