This week we learned about the newest player in the online higher ed for-profit space, the Minerva Project. Check out Audrey's blog post  and and Doug's article  for some good background and discussion about Minerva.
Any new investment in creating new models for higher ed is a good thing. Higher education will be the growth business of the 21st century, as demand will grow exponentially as the people of the emerging world migrate from the countryside to the city and move up the economic ladder. The expansion of postsecondary education to emerging economies will create new opportunities at both the low end and the high end of the higher ed market.
The next $100 billion dollar company (which has yet to be created) will be one that provides high quality, low-cost, accredited, and verifiable (through testing) postsecondary education at scale.
The other successful higher education ventures (both for-profit and non-profit) in the 21st century will be the premium providers, ones that offer the highest quality education experience (at higher costs) - delivered through a combination of residential and online learning. Those in the middle of the higher education delivery business, whose business models do not allow for either the driving down of costs or significant jumps in quality, will struggle. Many in the middle will succeed, but large numbers will either exit higher education or transition to specialized (expensive) or mass (cheap) education delivery models.
Which brings us to the Minerva Project . The goal is to be a premium player in the higher ed space, but with a lower price structure made possible by stripping out the non-instructional and high fixed costs of a legacy university. With no need to build or maintain classrooms, student centers, or labs - and no labor costs for researchers - the backers of Minerva believe that they can provide a quality education for significantly less tuition than the bundled competition. The branding is up-market, with the promise of exclusivity via high admission standards.
Existing for-profits such as Kaplan or U of P or Capella could conceivably offer competition in the premium space (say through an honors college), but this would be difficult given each of these for-profits current enrollment selectivity profile. Similarly, it is difficult-to-impossible for existing high-status institutions to offer a lower sticker price (if not an actual cost of tuition), due to our high fixed costs and missions as knowledge creators.
Going up-market for Minerva can make sense, as the demand for premium higher education will grow, and existing competitors have difficulty entering this space for brand or cost reasons. The challenge, as with all things, is in the execution.
Some edtech questions about the Minerva Project:
- How would you structure the Minerva program to keep costs down while pushing quality?
- What LMS would you adopt if you were starting from a clean slate an Minerva?
- What other technologies would you bring on board, such as presentation capture, synchronous classroom/meeting tools, and media management / publishing would you consider?
- What digital coursepack tools and vendors would you go with?
- How would you staff program/course development and the actual classes in terms of learning designers, librarians, media specialists, etc. etc.?
What are your thoughts and/or questions about Minerva?