Annual Letter For 2019 From Our Founder

by Ben Nelson | May 19, 2018

Dear Minerva Community,

Each year, we review the set of Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs) that serve as the bedrock of Minerva’s curriculum. We ensure that each HC remains relevant, consider which could be combined or need to be expanded upon, and most importantly, think about which HCs we do not have that we should. Last year, for example, we realized a crucial HC needed to be added: #purpose.

The #purpose HC is focused on identifying the overarching goals and motivations that guide action. It is the crucial first step before considering other problem-solving HCs, such as #rightproblem or #breakitdown. Without #purpose, solutions to problems would be less effectual and less resilient against the forces of change.

In a way, it’s ironic that #purpose was not among the very first set of HCs; Minerva itself is so driven by purpose, with our very existence articulated in our mission: nurturing critical wisdom for the sake of the world. Everything we do, each decision that we make, is guided by this “North Star.” Despite how essential that purpose is for us, we haven’t talked about it with those outside our organization nearly as often as we should.

Wisdom has always been in short supply. Of course, many argue that from a long view of history, wisdom is more prevalent today than at any time in the past. Yet, modernity itself has all but nullified this positive increase. I continue to return to this irrefutable reality: our modern world moves at an extraordinarily fast pace. Though this is by no means the first period of momentous change in history, no previous era has been marked by such rapid acceleration.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the course of my life was taught to me by the legendary sociologist E. Digby Baltzell in the last course he delivered before his passing. He said that since the days of Jesus and the Roman Roads to the dawn of the industrial revolution, “the wheel did not turn any faster.” By this he meant that, for the vast majority of history, the world moved at such a comparatively slow pace that unwise decisions could be corrected with months, even years of deliberation. We do not have that luxury today.

With every news cycle, we see the repercussions of increasingly frequent unwise decisions, which, in our modern age, have the ability to sow destruction across the planet. Many propose ways in which, they believe, we should react to these problems: curb the power of social media, counter fake news, mobilize grassroots action, among many others. But these are, at best, salves for the symptoms of a greater underlying problem. Indeed many of these symptom-oriented solutions may prove counterproductive, their unintended consequences further deepening our predicament. Today, our world is more in need of wisdom than at any time in history.

There is no quick fix to this dilemma, but we have shown that Minerva is a crucial component of the solution. You may have seen our remarkable CLA+ results, which demonstrated that our students’ educational attainments in only eight months exceed those of any other university’s graduating fourth-year students. More importantly, our students’ advancement was the largest the CLA+ has ever seen. When it comes to developing critical thinking, problem solving, scientific reasoning, and written communication skills — the very skills that will change the world — no university has ever been able to indicate that it can achieve in four years what Minerva has achieved in one. We are confident that by continuing to prove these enhanced learning outcomes, we will inspire other institutions to adopt key components of our model.

Just last week, we finalized our very first partnership with the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST), one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world. This partnership will allow a select group of HKUST students to replace their general education requirements with Minerva’s Cornerstone curriculum, and a small group of Minerva students to spend their fourth year at HKUST doing advanced research and applying their learnings from the first three years at Minerva. We could not be more thrilled to have another such high profile collaborator in fulfilling our purpose.

Indeed, we cannot fulfill our purpose alone. You — our supporters, fellow education innovators, and yes, even those very institutions that we are working tirelessly to reform — you are needed more than ever. Come September, Minerva will, for the first time, have four full classes of undergraduate students and two classes of MDA graduate students. In order for these roughly 600 students to strike a collective victory for wisdom, they need your support.

To ensure these students emerge from their experience at Minerva fully prepared to tackle the greatest challenges of our time, we are increasing our targets for philanthropic fundraising; more than 80% of our students rely on need-based financial aid to attend Minerva, so as we grow, our ability to provide aid to these extraordinary individuals must grow in kind. Remember, the value we offer is unmatched in all of higher education. The incredibly low cost to attend, together with our proven learning outcomes, and a lifetime of professional support mean there is simply no better investment in human potential, anywhere.

Last October, the MIT Press published our book, Building the Intentional University. If you have not yet read it and are interested in what we are doing, please consider purchasing a copy. Once you have read it, be sure to share it with someone else, ideally someone who might help further our mission — be it a top student, a visionary philanthropist, a prospective employer, or a reform-minded educator.

We cannot stand by as world leaders continue to make unwise decisions; Minerva’s mission must be a shared purpose among us all. Join us. Be tireless in fighting for wisdom and enabling more individuals to learn the skills needed to make informed decisions. Our future depends on it.

With gratitude for all you have already done and that which you continue to do,

Ben Nelson