U.S. Online Startup Seeks to Rival the Ivy League

Courtney Williams's picture
Thursday, April 5, 2012

Former Silicon Valley CEO Ben Nelson has two years and $25 million to transform higher education.

The 36-year-old executive, who has run the Snapfish photo-sharing website and the Redbeacon home-maintenance site, said this week that he had landed $25 million in seed money for an audacious new venture: creating an elite global university online. From scratch.

The Internet already teems with online universities, both private and public, respected and questionable. But Nelson is betting the world could use a brand-new model. He is not alone; several other high-profile educational entrepreneurs have launched innovative ventures this year in hopes of harnessing the Internet to upend the ivory towers.

At a time of immense concern in the United States about the soaring cost of college -- and growing doubts about how much students actually learn on campus -- the ventures are attracting considerable interest from students, investors and education experts.

"The only way we're going to find out what works is to do it, rather than sit there opining," said David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University. "Bring it on."

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