Is this the future of college: Online classes, but no degree

Connor Mitchell’s university classes take place online, he doesn’t have any exams and he studies in a different country every year.

Is he looking into the future or taking a gamble?

With college costs rising steadily and with more courses available online for free, some observers are beginning to question the need for a traditional college education that may include lectures on Greek philosophy but burden students with massive debt.

Education startups are offering alternatives — from boot camps, to one- or two-year tracks, to accredited degree programs — and their founders say these options will give students a more relevant education in today’s job market, and at a lower price.

But some experts caution against betting on a narrow, practical education geared toward a specific field that is in demand today but could leave them unprepared for the jobs of tomorrow. They also say most applicants still need a college degree from an established institution to get a good job.

Minerva, an accredited four-year university named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, wants to reinvent elite four-year liberal arts education by teaching critical thinking as opposed to “regurgitating information,” founder Ben Nelson said.

“You cannot teach yourself how to think critically, you actually have to go through a structured process,” said Nelson, an energetic, fast-talking 41-year-old, who previously served as president of the photo printing website Snapfish. “What is sad is that wisdom is wasted on the old. Wisdom should be the tool for the young.”

All of Minerva’s classes take place online. The interactive platform is designed to keeps student engaged and allow professors to call on them. Minerva students start school in San Francisco and then spend time in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Taipei, Taiwan, and other global hubs, continuing to take online classes and completing hands-on assignments at local companies and organizations.

Cost is $29,000 per year for tuition…

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