San Francisco entrepreneur starts his version of Harvard, tuition-free 

click to enlarge Minerva founder Ben Nelson is pictured at the Minerva Project headquarters in San Francisco in this August 2013. - REUTERS/MINERVA PROJECT
  • REUTERS/Minerva Project
  • Minerva founder Ben Nelson is pictured at the Minerva Project headquarters in San Francisco in this August 2013.

Minerva Schools of KGI doesn't yet have accreditation, a campus or even a full faculty roster, but it is offering something even Harvard can't - four years of free tuition for its first matriculating class.

The San Francisco-based Minerva Project, an ambitious effort to remake the higher education model, announced its tuition plan on Tuesday in hopes of attracting some of the world's most talented and academically competitive students for the class that will enroll in the fall of 2014.

Although many details of the new school are still to be ironed out, students in subsequent years will pay tuition of $10,000 a year along with about $19,000 annually for room and board - still well below the cost of many other top U.S. universities that can run upwards of $50,000 and $60,000 a year.

"Not only are we looking at students who are intellectually brilliant, we are looking for students who have a deep intellectual thought, deep integrative thought, worldliness, excitement about seeing the world, and maturity," said Minerva founder Ben Nelson, who ran photo service Snapfish until he sold it to Hewlett Packard in 2005.

"We're asking a lot of them," he said about the first class of students. "We're asking them not only to be the first students at Minerva, but to help us shape it."

That will include providing constant feedback, he said in an interview, adding the first class would have between 15 and 19 students.

To recruit them, Minerva is working with guidance counselors and high school principals around the world, Nelson said, and several thousand inquiries have come in via its website from 99 countries.

Courses at Minerva, named for the Roman goddess of wisdom, will be seminar-oriented, focusing on higher level skills such as logic, reasoning, rhetoric and empirical analysis, Nelson said.

Students who need introductory classes such as Economics 101 will be encouraged to find free online lectures.

"Anything that can be delivered in a lecture, we don't think it's particularly moral of us to charge money for," he said.

In a further departure from the traditional educational model, the school's faculty, projected to be experts in their fields from around the world, will not be offered tenure. They will hold classes with the Minerva students online.

Students will spend their first year in San Francisco and then rotate to other cities in subsequent years, although the locations have not yet been determined.

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