Friends of Minerva,
Five years ago, I walked away from roles at Harvard and Stanford to join Minerva University as its Founding Dean and Chief Academic Officer. At the time, Minerva existed only as a bold concept, but promised the opportunity to build a better university from scratch. I have dedicated many years of my career to understanding how people think and learn, and joining Minerva was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use systematically decades of research on the science of learning to help students succeed.
There have been many proof points over the past five years that our approach at Minerva is not only attracting some of the world’s brightest young minds, but also is delivering superior outcomes when compared to the world’s most respected traditional universities. Today, I am pleased to share a significant proof point that further confirms that Minerva is delivering unparalleled student learning outcomes.
This past year, Minerva administered the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), a standardized test that assesses critical thinking, problem solving and written expression, to assess what our students learned during a single academic year. In fall 2016, Minerva freshmen performed in the 95th percentile compared to freshmen at other schools — we are highly selective, and expected a result like this. However, by spring 2017, just eight months later, those same Minerva freshmen performed at the 99th percentile when compared to the seniors at all the other institutions. But more than that: Minerva was ranked number 1 of all schools that administered the test. The average score of our students at the end of their freshman spring term was higher than the scores of senior graduating classes at every other university and college that administered the test.
We have learned from the CLA+ team that Minerva’s performance is unique in CLA+ history. These results demonstrate that the learning-centric methodology we created delivers on its promise; we have dramatically improved the way students learn to think. To my knowledge, Minerva is the only institution to use the science of learning systematically in all aspects of the curriculum.
I often remark that lectures are a wonderful way to teach but a terrible way to learn. It is widely known that lectures during class are banned at Minerva. Rather, all of our classes are seminars, which we have designed to engage students in the sort of cognitive processing that engenders learning. We do this by relying on what we call “fully active learning,” which requires all students to be engaged at least 75 percent of the time while in class — as opposed to passively listening to an expert. We have developed a host of new methods, and intentionally designed the Active Learning Forum — the online platform we use to host our real-time seminars — to facilitate using those methods.
The details of our teaching methods and the research that has guided our program are not secrets. Coincidentally, during the same week that we are able to share the most recent CLA+ test results, we are pleased to announce the release of “Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education,” a book published by MIT Press that our team collaborated on over the past two years. The book describes what we teach and why, how we teach, and how our academic program is embedded in a broader context that allows students to have an unusually full (and international) college experience. We hope that this book will allow other universities to duplicate — and build on — the methods and processes that have led our students to learn so well.
Stephen M. Kosslyn