How the Minerva Project Works

The Great Unknown
Founder Ben Nelson addresses the inaugural class.
Founder Ben Nelson addresses the inaugural class.
Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images

In every interview and press release, Ben Nelson and the representatives of the Minerva Institute and Minerva Academy emphasize that Minerva is an elite college, but in its first-ever semester (Fall 2014), Minerva's success, reputation and staying power have not yet been tested.

While some critics have questioned the for-profit structure of the university, Nelson maintains that the school will be more affordable than most nonprofit universities. Unlike many for-profit schools that rely on federal student aid for the bulk of their revenues, Minerva rejects federal funding altogether. By relying on private funding, Nelson estimates that he will save $1,000 per student in federal aid compliance costs [source: Wood]. Minerva's tuition of $10,000 per year is far lower than any of the Ivy League colleges, even when estimated room and board costs of $18,000 per year are added in.

For students who may have qualified for federal student aid, Minerva says it plans to offer internships, need-based scholarships and help with obtaining private loans. And while it may be difficult for the school to generate a profit through student tuition alone, The Wall Street Journal reports that Minerva could eventually generate revenue by offering conferences and executive education or licensing its content and proprietary seminar technology.

To be sure, the Minerva model won't appeal to everyone. Nelson himself concedes that if you long to be a college athlete, Minerva is not the place for you [source: Kaminski]. Just as some students prefer large party schools and some look for small, quiet liberal arts colleges, the Minerva approach to instruction and student life is sure to appeal to some academically minded students. But whether Minerva will have the draw to pull the best and brightest students from Ivy League institutions remains to be seen. Despite its stringent admission criteria and low acceptance rate, Minerva will probably need to graduate a class or two before it can be considered for inclusion in the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings.

For more about the Minerva Project and other nontraditional models of higher education, check out the resources on the next page.

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