How do you set up an accredited university? You buy one. Then you convert it into a 100% online school.
The secret to all this is the fact that small colleges are going out of business all the time. They have one asset worth retraining: regional accreditation. Everything else can be sold off.
Let's assume that Peter Thiel, who is a libertarian, wanted to set up a libertarian University. He would wait until one of these struggling colleges goes belly up, and he would buy the assets. The real estate is irrelevant. It can be sold off for commercial development. They could be rented out to businesses that wanted to have seminars. It really doesn't matter. The school would retain ownership of the library, but only for accreditation purposes.
The regional accreditation board will want to see that the college has a comprehensive curriculum that is suitable for accreditation. This is easy to achieve.
There are about a dozen majors that accredited colleges normally offer: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, English, history, political science, sociology, psychology, education, philosophy, business, and economics. Lots of small colleges don't offer an economics major. They just offer a business major.
Each of these majors offers a one lower division course that is required for entry into upper division. the upper division courses can be limited to 60 semester hours, divided by three, or 20 one-semester courses. There might be one or two elective courses.
Each one-year course requires 90 50-minute lectures. A typical college course has three lectures per week for 15 weeks in a semester. Then there will be at least one textbook or equivalent, or possibly three or four monographs. There will be a workbook. There will be some computer graded examinations.
So, we're talking about 20 courses times approximately a dozen majors. That is 240 one-semester courses. Then there have to be the lower-division courses, so add another dozen one-year courses. Certainly, it will take no more than 300 one-semester courses to fulfill the requirements of accreditation. Put differently, it would be 150 one-year courses.
The college can hire the services of a libertarian scholar who knows the key intellectual players in a number of fields. The best one I can think of would be the Mises Institute's David Gordon. The president of the college would then contact approximately four dozen scholars. He would make this offer: produce 90 50-minute lectures, a workbook, and a reading list. This would take care of a one-year course. For this, each scholar will be paid an advance on royalties of $10,000.
This would be an up-front cost of about $1.5 million. Chump change.
The courses would sell for $100 per semester. That would be $200 for a one-year course, times five courses per year per student. That is a grand total of $1,000. Add another thousand dollars for marketing and administration, and the student gets a bachelor's degree for about $10,000.
Instructors would get the $100 per semester fee. They would have to grade a midterm and a final. But remember: half of these would be true/false and multiple-choice. This is what AP exams use. They are standard operating procedure. College professors use them all the time. A computer can grade these. Any instructor with a Ph.D. can grade the essay part of a midterm in 10 minutes or less. A final might take 15 minutes.
Let's assume that the instructor enrolls 200 students. That is $20,000 per semester. But let's assume that Thiel actively markets this. The professor enrolls 500 students. Now he pulls in $50,000 per semester. Do you think there are libertarian professors of English who would like a shot at an extra $100,000 a year, plus summer vacation student income? I think so.
These people work maybe 20 hours a week at their existing campuses. So, they double their hours. So what?
Unlike classroom-based education, online students go at their own pace. So, midterms and finals would not have to be graded in two or three days. They would dribble in all semester. There would be no jam-up.
If there are large classes and lots of money rolling in, the instructors can quit their existing jobs. Some of them may not be in academia. They may be doing low-paid work. They would jump at this opportunity to get into college teaching.
There are thousands of part-time professors with Ph.D. degrees who get paid $20 an hour at community colleges. They are called adjunct professors. Would they jump at this?
They would not get tenure. The competition would be fierce. Thiel could get the cream of the crop.
This program could easily be set up within 24 months after the purchase of the defunct accredited college. If the instructors all have a doctorate, there will be no question about their qualifications for teaching in any university. There are lots of libertarian instructors out there who have Ph.D. degrees, and who are teaching in poverty-stricken colleges for $50,000 a year.
This strategy has been pioneered by profit-seeking universities that have bought up struggling colleges, and which then charge astronomical prices for the courses. They get these young people into debt to get a degree from an obscure college in a liberal arts field.
If whoever puts up the initial money is willing to hire people with a Ph.D., and he is willing to price the courses where they ought to be, there is no question in my mind that a college like this would have 5,000 students within five years. The money would roll in. For positioning purposes, it would be wise to keep it as a nonprofit institution. That would raise no yellow flags to the accreditation committee.
The lectures can all be put online, either as screencasts behind a tuition wall, or just put online on YouTube. The value is the degree, not the lectures.
The core books in the upper division courses in the social sciences and humanities could be selected from the publications of the Liberty Fund and the Mises Institute. Students would get a first-rate liberal arts education.
I know this college project could be done. I have already done it with the Ron Paul Curriculum. I would be happy to show Thiel or an associate how to reproduce what I did with the RPC. It has taken me about 3 1/2 years. If I had had $10,000 of advance royalty money per course, it would have taken me 24 months. I could do this as the president of the college, but I have other fish to fry in my remaining years. I have to finish my multi-tiered books on Christian economics. It's a task for some young hotshot with a Ph.D. in anything and a burning desire to create a first-rate undergraduate college.
It would not take a multibillionaire to launch this project. A good old-fashioned multimillionaire could do it. The main expense would be to buy the defunct college. The professors would all be fired at the time of the bankruptcy. If the rich man agreed to pay off the debts, then this purchase would be duck soup. The creditors would be ecstatic. As for the fired faculty, who cares? Like drones that are cast out of the hive after they have performed their service, the unemployed professors will have to fend for themselves.
This strategy is so obvious that I don't see why the Koch brothers didn't do it years ago. My assumption is that they're just not interested in doing anything radical in the field of higher education. Thiel is.
Thiel could buy the courses now. He could then wait for the inevitable collegiate bankruptcies during the next recession. There will be plenty of choices.
If he wanted to set up a scholarship program for inner-city kids, that would be easy. He could do the same for students in the Third World. They would have to take three liberal arts courses with CLEP exams. That would cost them about $300. The eligibility score would be 65 or higher out of 80 on each exam.
Anyway, this should be a reminder that all is not lost at the collegiate level. All it needs is somebody with a few million dollars to spare and the vision to do it. It is not a matter of a lack of money. It is a lack of leaders with vision.