This time it's a new "university" called MINERVA that's going to kill off all the old-school schools. Minerva is a for-profit university where all the learning takes place in electronic seminars of up to 19 students. Sort of like a Skype conference call only it uses copyrighted software. Students will pay only $28,000 (US) per year for this experience.
There have been articles about the death of universities published every year for as long as I can remember. Almost all of them think that a "university" is just a place where you go to get an undergraduate education. That's because almost all of the potential murderers only experienced university as an undergraduate.
In this case, it's a businessman named Ben Nelson who is creating Minerva (she was the Roman goddess of wisdom). His university experience consisted of an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School (of business) at the University of Pennsylvania.
I'm a proponent of a student-centered learning environment and an opponent of traditional lectures. I agree that undergraduate education at universities has to change. There's much in the Atlantic article that I agree with but I stop paying attention when I read things like this ....
The paradox of undergraduate education in the United States is that it is the envy of the world, but also tremendously beleaguered. In that way it resembles the U.S. health-care sector. Both carry price tags that shock the conscience of citizens of other developed countries. They’re both tied up inextricably with government, through student loans and federal research funding or through Medicare. But if you can afford the Mayo Clinic, the United States is the best place in the world to get sick. And if you get a scholarship to Stanford, you should take it, and turn down offers from even the best universities in Europe, Australia, or Japan. (Most likely, though, you won’t get that scholarship. The average U.S. college graduate in 2014 carried $33,000 of debt.)Gee, I hate to break the news to my American friends, but American undergraduate education is NOT the envy of the world. Most undergraduate education in the USA is atrocious by Canadian, Australian, and European standards. Even the very best the USA has to offer is not obviously superior to the average in those countries.
You want proof? There it is right in front of you. The Atlantic is read by college graduates and the article was written by a college graduate. The fact that both readers and writers could honestly believe that undergraduate education at Stanford is superior to that of Oxford, Paris Sorbonne, Tokyo, or even Toronto, is evidence that they have not been taught to think critically (et suppositio nil ponit in esse).
Oh, and by the way, the USA is not necessarily the best place to get sick even if you are fabulously wealthy. That's another stupid myth.1
Financial dysfunction is only the most obvious way in which higher education is troubled. In the past half millennium, the technology of learning has hardly budged. The easiest way to picture what a university looked like 500 years ago is to go to any large university today, walk into a lecture hall, and imagine the professor speaking Latin and wearing a monk’s cowl. The most common class format is still a professor standing in front of a group of students and talking. And even though we’ve subjected students to lectures for hundreds of years, we have no evidence that they are a good way to teach.I'm teaching a lab course this semester. The first class is next Tuesday. There are 42 students in a modern well-equipped lab for four hours every week. We're going to have a lot of fun doing experiments together with two excellent TA's who are getting Ph.D.s in biochemistry. We will have one hour discussion about the experiments every Thursday. Try to imagine us wearing monk's cowl's and speaking latin (cucullus non facit monachum).
It's hard for me to imagine how Minerva University is going to do a better job of teaching science without undergraduate laboratories and research labs where they can do student projects. Why is it that all these stories about the death of universities seems to ignore the sciences? If you really want to reform undergraduate education then you should make students take more, not fewer, science courses (ipsa scientia potestas est).
1. Another word for "myth" in this context is "jingoism."