New $500,000 prize planned for teaching

Entrepreneurs seeking to build an elite global university based on new ways of teaching online announced Monday the creation of a $500,000 prize to be awarded each year to an educator “whose innovations have led to extraordinary student learning experiences.”

The prize, described as the largest of its kind for higher education, is part of the start-up of the for-profit Minerva Project, which aims to open an institution of higher education in fall 2015.

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“Effectively it is a Nobel Prize for teaching,” said Ben Nelson, Minerva’s founder and chief executive and former chief executive of the online photo company Snapfish.

The San Francisco-based company has drawn notice for raising $25 million in venture capital and recruiting Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and former president of Harvard University, to serve as chairman of its advisory board.

Another adviser is former U.S. senator Bob Kerrey, who recently stepped down as president of the New School in New York. The founding dean is Stephen M. Kosslyn, formerly director of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and dean of social sciences at Harvard.

Nelson contends that worldwide demand for admission to top universities far outstrips supply, creating an opening for a new kind of institution with rigorous academic standards but much lower tuition costs than Ivy League and comparable universities.

Minerva, Nelson said, will not have a campus but will have several residential centers in major cities around the world. Students will take live, seminar-size classes online from top faculty, he said, and move from one city to another as they progress toward a degree. “We want to create the world’s greatest educational experience,” he said.

Nelson said the Minerva Prize aims to stimulate innovation in higher education. The first award, he said, will be made in May 2014. The winner will be chosen by a newly created Minerva Academy, led by Stanford professor and Nobel winner Roger D. Kornberg.

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