Annual Letter For 2020 From Our Founder

by Ben Nelson | Jan 24, 2020

Dear Minerva Community,

This past year was a momentous one for Minerva, as we saw our first class of undergraduates complete their Bachelor’s degrees. The early success that the Class of 2019 is experiencing, both in the workplace and in graduate school placements, is a clear demonstration of the power a Minerva education can have.

The following message from one recent graduate, Mai Amit, is a perfect illustration of this power:

“The new CEO, who was also the one responsible for my hiring, told me about my ‘ticket into the company.’ He said that they saw in me the ability to ‘transfer knowledge across domains’ and tackle obvious challenges using non-obvious perspectives. He said that throughout my tests and interviews, I demonstrated an ability to ‘systematically apply knowledge from one context to another,’ and that kind of ‘creative approach towards problem-solving’ was exactly what his team was looking for at the moment. (I swear, these were his words, not mine.) Now, doesn’t that sound familiar?

I know I was a creative and thoughtful person before coming to Minerva, but I also know that the four years you have concocted for me and my classmates have given me unbelievable value, which in some ways is only starting to unveil months after our graduation. I could go on and on about how, every day I notice how special the Minerva community is, how meaningful were our daily interactions, and how much I learned from everything that crossed our paths, ranging from visa challenges and packing lists, through late-night ASM emails and working groups, to assignments and office hours. Instead, I just wanted to let you know that I find myself at a lack of words to sufficiently express my gratitude.”

Mai’s story is one of more than a hundred. The short-term impact of our program is already surfacing and I am confident that over the long-term, impact from our student successes will be immeasurable. In fact, at the level of the best Ivy League institutions, 92% of our graduates are employed or pursuing further education within just six months of graduation. The caliber of those opportunities is impressive, often more so than those available to graduates from other top schools. Maybe more impressive, the roles our graduates have chosen reflect a drive to make meaningful change in the world — choosing purpose before profit — an ethos their undergraduate experience fosters.

This is why I started Minerva.

As many of you know from our widely publicized admissions rates, Minerva remains the most selective educational institution in the world. What’s more, no other highly selective university has a student body that is as broadly distributed across the socio-economic spectrum, let alone the globe. That fact is solely a reflection of our principled approach, not some engineered advantage in the admissions process.

But this letter is not meant to be about what we are doing well. It is about what we need to do better. In building this institution, we took on countless seemingly impossible problems with alacrity and have seen exceptional results, from student outreach and admissions to our rigorous academic programs and unique global rotation. One aspect, though, remains particularly challenging: providing financial support for a sizable portion of the student body.

From day one, we made a commitment to keep our costs as low as possible — a fraction of those at other top schools — and to enable every admitted student to attend. We also determined that students should play a role in funding their own education, keeping them invested in their own learning outcomes. Adhering to these commitments has turned out to be more difficult than we initially projected, yet we believe there is a clear solution: invite prescient thinkers from our growing network to help support the next wave of our institutional evolution.

Centered on establishing Minerva University as an independently accredited institution, this next phase of development requires commitments from benefactors at multiple levels to demonstrate a shared belief in the value of education as a force for change: from founding a new institution to increasing available financial aid to improving upon the professional development of our students.


As we work toward independent accreditation to form Minerva University, there is a unique opportunity for philanthropists who would like to leave a permanent and dramatic mark on global higher education. We will designate up to seven Founding Members who have the capacity to make significant contributions that will augment the resources that we have already raised from our first three Founding Members and through founding contributions from Minerva Project. This select group represents a visionary dedication to the future of education.

Benefactors at this level will enable us to expand access to Minerva beyond our current capability. Contributions will provide for the exogenous costs, including airfare between Minerva residential locations, visa fees, health insurance, and technology requirements (i.e., laptop computers) across four years, for all students who qualify for financial support in a class. Additional resources will also enable us to defer interest on all loans until our students’ fourth year, in perpetuity.

Sponsors & Professional Program Commitments

We are seeking new corporate sponsors who are interested in pioneering a new approach to the “working university.” Because we have seen such impressive growth in the students who currently qualify for our work-study program, we want to extend this opportunity — indeed to require it — for the entire student body. Moving from the current need-based model toward a comprehensive approach will allow professional experiences to be integrated into the academic fabric of the university, serving as another context in which our students apply their learning. Perhaps most importantly, this shift will ensure that all students, no matter their economic capacity, will bear the same burden during the academic year, such that those students on financial aid will no longer have to work harder than those who are not.

We have already developed programs for diverse fields, including market and trends research, logical fallacy in media, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and entrepreneurial innovation. The outputs of these programs vary, but are focused on providing both immediate value and meaningful long-term impact for our partners.

We cannot accomplish these ambitious goals alone. If you have a way to reach a philanthropist who cares deeply about education, social mobility, professional talent development, or a vibrant global society, please introduce them to me at If your company can benefit from our impressive student talent, please email

Together, we can demonstrate that for less than fifteen percent of the per-student support cost at an Ivy League university, a more diverse student body can get a superior education, more relevant work experience, and a manageable debt load that maintains personal responsibility.

Together, we can lead the transformation of global higher education and demonstrate that universities can indeed be a force for good in the world.


Ben Nelson