Validating a Virtual Startup School

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The Minerva Project is on an ambitious quest to establish itself as the first online Ivy League university. But along the way, it needs a little help from its friends--namely, existing, accredited institutions.

This week, the San Francisco-based company announced a partnership with the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), a graduate school founded in 1997 specializing in applied life sciences and a member of the Claremont Consortium, to launch the Minerva Schools at KGI. By working with KGI, Minerva hopes to have some of its programs accredited by the end of this year.

"We've been very public about going through the traditional accreditation process," shared Nelson in an interview with EdSurge. "For most of the last 12 months, we've been speaking with a number of different institutions about partnerships. KGI is the marriage of everything we were looking for in values, operating principles, and track record of innovation and impact."

Minerva will offer its own undergraduate programs within KGI. Specific details about the courses are still in the works but they will cover five broad areas (computational sciences, natural sciences, social sciences, arts & humanities, business), each with its own concentrated majors.

There won't be a Minerva "building" on the KGI campus, per se. Minerva CEO Ben Nelson shared with EdSurge that there are "no plans for a major physical presence at KGI" as classes will be conducted via live online video.

Minerva's undergraduate programs will be offered largely independently from KGI, although "the two institutions will work together to refine and improve strategies for student learning at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, to expand the team-based learning model...and to further their shared interdisciplinary approach to academics," according to the press release.

Nelson contends the relationship between Minerva and KGI is similar to how the School of Engineering operates under Stanford University--namely as part of the university but operating as its own entity. Of course, there are differences: while Minerva is a for-profit school, KGI is a nonprofit organization.

As part of the partnership, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the accreditation organization behind KGI, will begin reviewing the Minerva's program for approval. (Nelson declined to offer a timeframe but is "very confident" and "hopes to know by the end of the year.") If all goes well, he says, a Minerva undergrad economics major would get a degree that reads: "Bachelor of Science in Economics, awarded by the Minerva School in KGI."

Those may be degrees that employers will see on resumes in five years. Minerva's pilot freshman class, expected at 15 students, will start in fall 2014.

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