I’m getting some pretty definite messages to slow down in my personal and professional life.

My editor at Fast Company, quote: “You need to slow down. I’d rather have you write two amazing features in a year than four all right ones.”

Magda Gerber, author of Dear Parent, the last parenting book I read, with chapters including “At their own time, and in their own way”, “Learning to Observe” “and WAIT!”: “Do less. Enjoy more.”

Plus, this week, I got turned down for a fellowship application (that I threw together on my maternity leave) and a proposal for a book, (that I also threw together on my maternity leave), is not going to happen right now, for reasons that have nothing to do with me.

I’m so incredibly lucky to have work that intersects with my passions. I feel that I have an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the changes I want to see in the world, by gathering information, telling stories about those changes,  and getting people excited about the possibilities. Now that I have a daughter the motivations become a lot more complex. I want her to grow up with a mother who has work that she loves, and I want her to feel that I’m available and present to her. I want to rush through my work so I can get home and be with her, and I want my work to be really really good and “important” to justify the fact that I’m taking time away from her to do it.

SO I have to take my time. It’s not just about being efficient and productive. I have to do a careful gut check on each opportunity that comes my way and make sure : A. Is it consonant with my values? B. Is it high impact? C. Does it pay well? D. Will it be enjoyable?  (A+B+C+D = YES. A+C  OR A+B+D = Probably. )

Part of what that means for this blog is that I’ll be crossposting a lot from FastCompany.com, where I’ll be making an effort to cover the future of education on a weekly basis.

I just got back from speaking about DIY U at Ft. Hays State University in western Kansas, a spot reachable only by a 19-seat prop plane with no bathroom. Despite that, I learned, they have over 200 students from China, and even more remarkably, they have 3600 Chinese students studying IN China as part of a few different dual degree programs, who will earn both Chinese and American diplomas in four years. This tiny rural campus, founded as a state teachers’ normal college in 1905, was the first American instiution certified to grant degrees in China, a relationship they’ve pursued as one of a series of international partnerships thanks to their director of partnerships and distance learning, Cindy Elliott, who was headed for Turkey and Dubai the day after my visit; they also have their sights set on India. To that end they’re developing an interdisciplinary degree program in Global Business English. At the same time, they’ve radically expanded their online offerings. Several staff members are committed to helping professors adopt free and open-source tools and materials; Cable Green of Creative Commons is coming to speak in a few months. And they do all of this with pretty damn low tuition: $2449 per semester for in-state 18-credit-hour undergrads and $7400 for out-of-state.

I mention this because I was surprised and impressed and I want to give credit where credit’s due. There’s so much hype about educational innovation coming from Boston or Silicon Valley, but as part of my work I have to remember to shed light on the Southern New Hampshires and western Kansases of the world.

(crossposted, with edits, from FastCompany.com. I’m going to be covering the future of education at least once a week over there; subscribe to my feed here.)
No new elite world-class universities have been founded for at least 100 years (Stanford-1891; Rice-1912), and most of them are centuries older than that. Ben Nelson, former CEO of Snapfish, has just announced that he’s starting a new one, for-profit and online. The Minerva Project has scored $25 million, the biggest seed bet in Benchmark Capital’s history, for a projected 2014 launch.

Nelson, improbably, has been a university-reform geek since his undergraduate days at Wharton, where he organized multidisciplinary courses and field trips. He sees a huge untapped market, especially internationally, for undergraduate liberal arts education at the elite level. “Harvard says that 80-85% of its applicants are fully qualified for admission, yet they have a 5.9% acceptance rate,” he tells Fast Company. “We think, conservatively, there are 250,000 English-fluent, smart, driven young people who aren’t able to get into an Ivy League university or equivalent in their home countries, and if we capture 1% of that market, we’ll be self-sustaining.”

Unlike the free, open, often self-paced online courses offered by Udacity, Coursera, Udemy, MITx, and other new ventures, Minerva will ask students to watch a pre-recorded video lecture in real time, while interacting over video chat with classmates and discussion leaders. Despite time zone, bandwidth, and equipment issues, the synchronous model has worked for 2Tor, a startup headed by Jon Katzman of the Princeton Review that built online versions of graduate programs at USC, UNC, and Georgetown. Nelson intends to charge somewhere under $20,000 in annual tuition, or less than half of what elites are asking (but a similar price point to the University of Phoenix).

He’s attracted a lot of money and packed his board with ex-university presidents, notably Larry Summers (Harvard) and Bob Kerrey (New School).”Larry was one of the first to come on board,” said Nelson. “He said, what you’re doing is critical. You’re harnessing the potential of so many elite students out there.”

But offering something equivalent to the Ivy League in the confines of a computer screen is a tall order. Minerva promises to recruit top-quality professors, develop an advanced interdisciplinary core curriculum, and maintain high standards by flunking lots of people (rather than rejecting them at the applicant end). And here’s the weirdest part: Though the classes are online, they expect students to live together in “dorm clusters” all over the world, starting locally and then rotating around to spend a semester in Mumbai, Vancouver, Shenzen, or wherever. I asked Nelson what will happen when a student in one of those dorms ODs or harasses her roommate, and he waved his hand and said they’ll outsource management. My suspicion is that administrative overhead will quickly grow beyond expectations, and that his investors’ impatience will grow, too. “We never talked IPO, we never talked exit,” Nelson insists. “Our conversations were all about the tremendous need for this.”