A new kind of university has begun to emerge: Call it Star Scholar U.
Professors with large followings and technical prowess are breaking off to start their own online institutions, delivering courses with little or no backing from traditional campuses.
Founding a university may sound dramatic, but in an era of easy-to-use online tools it can be done as a side project—akin to blogging or writing a textbook. Soon there could be hundreds of Star Scholar U’s.
Two recent examples are Marginal Revolution University, started by two economics professors at George Mason University, and Rheingold U, run by the author and Internet pioneer Howard Rheingold. To be clear, these professors are using the word “university” loosely—they award no credit and claim no spot on any college ranking. And they probably won’t become rich through their teaching. But the gambit gives them full control over the content and delivery methods. And it offers their personal brands as a kind of credential.
A key inspiration has been Salman Khan. The former financial analyst opened his Khan Academy six years ago, a Web site with short lecture videos that are now supplemented by online quizzes. It’s a self-service operation, intended as a resource both for students and for instructors who want to use the material as part of their traditional courses. The site sent a subversive message to reform-minded professors: You don’t have to wait for your university to change; you can teach in new ways right now—on your own.