Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy

Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, believes college should look very different from the typical four-year institution.  The Khan Academy is a popular site that offers free online video lectures about a variety of subjects, lays out his thoughts on the future of education in his book, The One World School House: Education Reimagined, released last month. Though most of the work describes Mr. Khan’s experiences with Khan Academy and his suggestions for changing elementary- and secondary-school systems, he does devote a few chapters to higher education.



In a chapter titled “What College Could Be Like,” Mr. Khan conjures an image of a new campus in Silicon Valley where students would spend their days working on internships and projects with mentors, and would continue their education with self-paced learning similar to that of Khan Academy. The students would attend ungraded seminars at night on art and literature, and the faculty would consist of professionals the students would work with as well as traditional professors.

“Traditional universities proudly list the Nobel laureates they have on campus (most of whom have little to no interaction with students),” he writes. “Our university would list the great entrepreneurs, inventors, and executives serving as student advisers and mentors.”

Mr. Khan writes that he admires the work of Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, who set up a fellowship program for college students to drop out and pursue entrepreneurship with the help of financial backing and mentors. But he believes living on a college campus is more valuable than Mr. Thiel acknowledges. “Grow Thiel’s fellowship to several hundred students a year; allow them to be mentored in various settings, not just one where they are starting a venture; house the students in an inspiring residential campus; and give them a scaffold of academics, and we are talking about almost the same thing,” he writes.

In the book, Mr. Khan also advocates for a separation of universities’ teaching and credentialing roles, arguing that if students could take internationally recognized assessments to prove themselves, the playing field would be leveled between students pursuing different forms of higher education. Although students would not be graded in the imagined university he describes, they would compile a portfolio of their work and assessments from their mentors.

“Existing campuses could move in this direction by de-emphasizing or eliminating lecture-based courses, having their students more engaged in research and co-ops in the broader world, and having more faculty with broad backgrounds who show a deep desire to mentor students,” he writes.

Via The Chronicle