Are You Ready for the Post-College SAT?

The Wall Street Journal

Employers Say They Don’t Trust Grade-Point Averages




    Joe Philipson for The Wall Street JournalDavid Pate, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at St. John Fisher College outside Rochester, N.Y. The college will offer the new CLA + test.

    Next spring, seniors at about 200 U.S. colleges will take a new test that could prove more important to their future than final exams: an SAT-like assessment that aims to cut through grade-point averages and judge students’ real value to employers.

    A new test for college seniors that aims to be the SAT for prospective employers is the latest blow to the monopoly long-held by colleges and universities on what it means to be well-educated. Doug Belkin and Michael Poliakoff, American Council of Trustees and Alumni V.P. of Policy, discuss on Lunch Break. Photo: AP.

    The test, called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, “provides an objective, benchmarked report card for critical thinking skills,” said David Pate, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at St. John Fisher College, a small liberal-arts school near Rochester, N.Y. “The students will be able to use it to go out and market themselves.”

    The test is part of a movement to find new ways to assess the skills of graduates. Employers say grades can be misleading and that they have grown skeptical of college credentials.

    “For too long, colleges and universities have said to the American public, to students and their parents, ‘Trust us, we’re professional. If we say that you’re learning and we give you a diploma it means you’re prepared,’ ” said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “But that’s not true.”

    The new voluntary test, which the nonprofit behind it calls CLA +, represents the latest threat to the fraying monopoly that traditional four-year colleges have enjoyed in defining what it means to be well educated.

    Even as students spend more on tuition—and take on increasing debt to pay for it—they are earning diplomas whose value is harder to calculate. Studies show that grade-point averages, or GPAs, have been rising steadily for decades, but employers feel many new graduates aren’t prepared for the workforce.

    Meanwhile, more students are taking inexpensive classes such as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, but have no way to earn a meaningful academic credential from them.

    HNTB Corp., a national architectural firm with 3,600 employees, see value in new tools such as the CLA +, said Michael Sweeney, a senior vice president. Even students with top grades from good schools may not “be able to write well or make an argument,” he said. “I think at some point everybody has been fooled by good grades or a good resume.”

    The new test “has the potential to be a very powerful tool for employers,” said Ronald Gidwitz, a board member of the Council for Aid to Education, the group behind the test, and a retired chief executive of Helene Curtis, a Chicago-based hair-care company that was bought by Unilever in 1996.

    Only one in four employers think that two- and four-year colleges are doing a good job preparing students for the global economy, according to a 2010 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

    Meanwhile, GPAs have been on the rise. A 2012 study looking at the grades of 1.5 million students from 200 four-year U.S. colleges and universities found that the percentage of A’s given by teachers nearly tripled between 1940 and 2008. A college diploma is now more a mark “of social class than an indicator of academic accomplishment,” said Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University geophysics professor and co-author of the study.

    Employers such as General Mills Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. long have used their own job-applicant assessments. At some companies such as Google Inc., GPAs carry less weight than they once did because they have been shown to have little correlation with job success, said a Google spokeswoman.


    At Teach for America, which recruits college students to teach in rural and urban school districts, the GPA is one of just dozens of things used to winnow nearly 60,000 applicants for 5,900 positions. Candidates who make it to the second step of the process are given an in-house exam that assesses higher-order thinking, said Sean Waldheim, vice president of admissions at the group. “We’ve found that our own problem-solving activities work best to measure the skills we’re looking for,” he said.

    The Council for Aid to Education, the CLA + test’s creator, is a New York-based nonprofit that once was part of Rand Corp. The 90-minute exam is based on a test that has been used by 700 schools to grade themselves and improve how well their students are learning.

    The CLA + will be open to anyone—whether they are graduating from a four-year university or have taken just a series of MOOCs—and students will be allowed to show their scores to prospective employees. The test costs $35, but most schools are picking up the fee. Among schools that will use CLA + are the University of Texas system, Flagler College in Florida and Marshall University in West Virginia.

    The CLA + is scored on the 1600-point scale once used by the SAT “because everyone is familiar with that,” said Chris Jackson, director of partner development at the Council for Aid to Education. Instead of measuring subject-area knowledge, it assesses things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication.

    Cory LaDuke, a 21-year-old senior at St. John Fisher, said he had mixed feelings about taking the CLA + but understood why employers might be skeptical of some graduates because “some people don’t work that hard and fake their way through it,” he said.

    “It kind of sucks that an employer can’t trust your GPA, but that’s the way it is right now, so this also an opportunity,” said Mr. LaDuke. “It’s another way to prove yourself.”

    Other groups also have been seeking ways to better judge graduates’ skills. The Lumina Foundation, which aims to boost the number of college graduates, is offering a way to standardize what students should know once they earn a degree. The MacArthur Foundation has helped fund a system of “badges” for online learning to show mastery of certain skills. Last Thursday, President Barack Obama said he wants the federal government to devise a ratings system to gauge colleges’ performance based on student outcomes.

    Meanwhile, established testing companies are introducing new tools. Earlier this year, Educational Testing Service, which developed the Graduate Record Exam, announced two certificates to reward high marks on its Proficiency Profile, which assesses critical thinking, reading, writing and math.

    And ACT, the nonprofit that administers the college-admission exam of the same name, has a National Career Readiness Certificate, which measures skills such as synthesizing and applying information presented graphically.

    Educational Testing Service was surprised to learn through a survey last spring that more than a quarter of businesses were using the GRE to evaluate job applicants, said David Payne, an ETS vice president.

    Sean Keegan, a 2011 graduate of Tufts University, has posted his GRE on his resume because he landed in the 97th percentile, even though he isn’t applying to graduate school. “I think it shows I’m relatively smart,” said Mr. Keegan, who is looking for work in finance. “So far, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from employers.”

    A New School Year = A Fresh Start

    By Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, Clinical Psychologist

    Despite bringing summer to a screeching halt, the beginning of every school year can be hopeful and exciting. Along with brand-new notebooks, there is a promise of new passions, getting to know different teachers and subjects, and befriending new classmates. Unless, that is, parents remind teens and tweens of all their shortcomings the previous year. As kids get ready for the upcoming term, I see parents anxiously enumerating inventories of past problems they fear will follow them to the next grade: poor test scores, incomplete or late homework assignments, procrastination, lost textbooks, lying about work, doing the bare minimum to get by, and so forth. Although you too can probably rattle off the flaws in your child that prompt your worst frustrations and worries during the school year, there are three good reasons not to belabor them, but rather to treat this September as a totally fresh start.

    1. The Gift of Time and Maturity
    For one, your teen or tween may be a different student this year. At this age, even a few months can trigger a huge maturational spurt. Thanks to this summer’s experiences, your kids may have new skills or confidence that encourage more commitment to academics, reduce their fear of making mistakes, and therefore make them more willing to think creativity. Peter, a rising high school sophomore being tested for an attention deficit, told me last week, “I don’t think I’m going to fall behind again this year. I’m planning to do my homework as soon as I get home in the afternoon and not the morning it’s due.” When I asked what made him so sure he could make this enormous change, Peter replied, “I got rid of Minecraft—I was addicted.” Time will tell whether Peter makes good on his intentions, but at least he’s now reflecting on the problem, taking responsibility for it, and coming up with a solution.

    2. Circumstances Change
    Two, because of different curricula, teachers, and subjects, your teen’s school experience may not present the same set of challenges this year. Especially during middle school and high school, struggles in one class or another—often, foreign language, math, or science—can affect the attitudes, work habits, and energy teens bring to other courses. Just as often, upsetting social issues can darken teens’ moods and sap their motivation, wreaking havoc on their performance. But things may be very different this year. Rose, for example, was devastated when her friendship group began to exclude her last winter. Demoralized and isolated, she couldn’t concentrate on her work and her grades plummeted. But when she returns to school next week, Rose will be buoyed by two new friendships she made over the summer. Back to feeling comfortable and enthusiastic, she will probably have no trouble tackling the challenges of junior year. In addition, things may be different this year not because circumstances change, but because your teen or tween is different; hopefully, increased maturity will make them more resourceful and adept at coping with whatever problems arise.

    3. A Much-Deserved Clean Slate
    Three, and probably most important, no matter how much teens and tweens may have messed up last year, they deserve the chance to start anew. The slate should be cleaned of all previous transgressions. Reminders of previous flaws are demoralizing because they make kids think, “Why bother?” The mindset of a fresh start gives them hope of improvement, which is motivating. Unburdened from the past, the next grade seems brighter with possibility.

    So how can you approach the new school year in ways that encourage your teen or tween to take advantage of a fresh start? Here are some do’s and don’ts:

    A Few Don’ts
    • Avoid bringing up your child’s past shortcomings, mistakes, and failures. If you’re anxious about old patterns recurring this year, when the stakes may be higher, this may not be so easy. To stop yourself from blurting unhelpful comments, imagine showing up on your first day of a new job only to hear your boss enumerate all the poor ratings you got in your previous job.

    • Refrain from alerting new teacher(s) or guidance counselors to your son’s academic struggles or your daughter’s social woes—especially before school starts. This helps no one. In fact, your efforts might backfire by setting up the very expectations you’re most trying to avoid. Give your students the chance to develop brand-new images or reputations as they try out new skills and get to know new teachers and classmates.

    • Don’t repeat your previous mistakes. Remember all the strategies, punishments, and incentives you diligently set up last year—the ones that failed miserably to spark an iota of positive change? Well, now is your chance to start afresh, as well. If berating, threatening, or imposing ever more restrictive consequences didn’t work before, why not try a new approach?

    A Few Do’s
    • Be open to new possibilities. Rather than anticipating (or dreading) reenactments of last year’s scenarios, be optimistic that this year can be really different. As described, there is every reason to hope that your son or daughter may be really different. If your harbor a doom-and-gloom outlook, you may set in motion a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    • Look for positives. Be on the alert for signs your teen or tween may be more mature or better prepared to invest in school and extracurricular activities. Notice even small spurts of curiosity or enthusiasm for ideas, such as when daughter excitedly tells you what she learned in science or your son bolsters his argument with a historical reference.

    • Acknowledge their growth. Nothing is more motivating than success. When your teens or tweens think they can be successful, it’s more likely they will be successful. So when you comment on how they’ve improved, you’re powerfully reinforcing their belief in themselves

    • Anticipate backsliding/bumps in the road. Progress is rarely consistent; rather, for every two steps forward teens and tweens are likely to take one step backward. Instead of thinking, “Oh no, here we go again—it’s sixth grade all over!” reframe the situation as a mere hiccup. If you don’t overreact, neither will your teen.

    • Provide reasonable supports. Starting with a clean slate doesn’t mean disengaging from your child’s education. Teens need their parents to be appropriately involved, which may include creating a structure at home that facilitates regular, timely completion of work. Depending on their age, kids might need guidelines for screen time and social networking. No matter what grade, teens and tweens need a quiet, organized place to study that is well-stocked with school supplies and an occasional late-night run for poster board or markers.

    Discuss Plans for the School Year
    When you approach the new school year as a fresh start, your teen or tween won’t fear hearing their past transgressions rehashed, so they’ll be more receptive to meaningful conversations. You can ask in a matter-of-fact way: What are your goals for seventh grade? What would you like to accomplish as a freshman? Even, what would you like to do differently this year? And, what can I do to help? When you refrain from telling students what they should accomplish this year (and, above all, relate it to the college process), you’re avoiding inciting their defensiveness and rebellion. Best, you’ll be encouraging your teens to think for themselves about these issues. You’re helping them to imagine what changes they can make to make their school experience more fruitful and enjoyable. If you keep being a good listener and sounding board, you’ll stimulate your child’s reflection, analysis, and problem-solving.

    It’s wise to focus on what your teens do—what courses they choose, the number and kinds of activities they commit to, how they study, etc. Talk non-judgmentally about things under their control, such as their sleep and study habits, rather than assumptions about their character (e.g., “laziness” or lack of motivation). When inevitable challenges or slips arise, rather than flipping out or hiring an army of tutors to fill your teens’ weekends, you can refer back to these conversations. Remind teens it takes awhile to learn new skills and practice them until they become habits. If you remain noncritical and nonreactive, your child is more likely to come to you for help instead of denying the problem or waiting until it snowballs. When you’re asked for help, you can make a fresh start to this new school year by intervening in the most constructive ways possible.


    Feeling geeky? ‘Awkward Years Project’ shows kids it gets better

    A. Pawlowski TODAY contributor

    Aug. 23, 2013 at 8:03 AM ET

    Awkward Years Project

    Courtesy Awkward Years Project
    Merilee Allred was the first person to post a photo on the Awkward Years Project, a blog she launched to show how great people turn out. She is holding a picture of herself when she was 11.

    When braces, glasses, acne and mean kids rule your world, it’s hard to imagine you’ll one day emerge as a confident, alluring adult.

    Anyone who has ever gone through a geeky, self-conscious stage as an adolescent – and that’s most of us – probably hides any photographic evidence of those unfortunate hairdos, nerdy clothes and gangly bodies.

    But Salt Lake City, Utah, graphic designer Merilee Allred — a self-described “queen of the nerds” when she was in school — wants you to dig those pictures out and show kids it gets better.

    “I was bullied and teased over how I looked,” Allred, 35, told TODAY Moms when recalling her tween and teen years.

    “I was probably one of the tallest in my class so I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was clumsy, and because I was shy and very quiet, I couldn’t stand up for myself so I think I was just an easy target.”

    Allred’s family moved frequently for her dad’s job, so she was often the new kid at school trying to fit in when everyone had already established their circles of friends. She remembers girls not wanting to let her into their groups, pushing her around and calling her names.

    It’s been more than 20 years since that painful experience, but when a friend couldn’t believe she had a hard time in school and demanded “proof,” Allred realized many people have hidden scars from school.

    So she started the Awkward Years Project, a blog that invites adults to pose with photos of themselves as kids, tweens and teens to show how they turned out. The results are often startling — with girls turning into stunning women and boys becoming confident men.


    Courtesy Awkward Years Project

    Courtesy Awkward Years Project

    Allred emphasizes the project is not about boasting “look how much better looking I got,” but gives people the chance to take pride in who they are and how they survived those years.

    She herself was mortified about showing her picture, which she has kept mostly out of sight up until now, but hopes sharing it will mean helping others. She’s already heard from teenagers who told her the blog has given them hope.

    Allred wishes she could tell her younger self, and all the kids going through a similar experience, that it does get better. She wants teens to know they are great people in the making.

    “Try not to let the bullies get to (you),” Allred said.

    “I just wish I knew that growing up because I never really thought about what I would be like as an adult and how these bullies and popularity contests don’t matter anymore.”


    Courtesy Awkward Years Project

    Courtesy Awkward Years Project

    Proven Study Techniques

    The Brilliant Report by Annie Murphy Paul

    Put down that highlighter!In a world as fast-changing and full of information as our own, every one of us—from schoolchildren to college students to working adults—needs to know how to learn well. Yet evidence suggests that most of us don’t use the learning techniques that science has proved most effective. Worse, research finds that learning strategies we do commonly employ, like rereading and highlighting, are among the least effective.

    The scientific literature evaluating these techniques stretches back decades and across thousands of articles. It’s far too extensive and complex for the average parent, teacher or employer to sift through. Fortunately, a team of five leading psychologists have done the job for us. In a comprehensive report released earlier this year by the Association for Psychological Science, the authors, led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky, closely examine ten learning tactics and rate each from high to low utility on the basis of the evidence they’ve amassed. Here’s a quick guide to the report’s conclusions:

    The Worst
    Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences. Nearly as bad is the practice of rereading, a common exercise that is much less effective than some of the better techniques you can use. Lastly, summarizing, or writing down the main points contained in a text, can be helpful for those who are skilled at it, but again, there are far better ways to spend your study time. Highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing were all rated by the authors as being of “low utility.”

    The Best
    In contrast to familiar practices like highlighting and rereading, the learning strategies with the most evidence to support them aren’t well known outside the psych lab. Take distributed practice, for example. This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions, rather than engaging in one marathon. Cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through that test or meeting, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. And the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.

    The second learning strategy that is highly recommended by the report’s authors is practice testing. Yes, more tests—but these are not for a grade. Research shows that the mere act of calling information to mind strengthens that knowledge and aids in future retrieval. While practice testing is not a common strategy—despite the robust evidence supporting it—there is one familiar approach that captures its benefits: using flash cards. And now flash cards can be presented in digital form, via apps like Quizlet, StudyBlue and FlashCardMachine. Both spaced-out learning, or distributed practice, and practice tests were rated as having “high utility” by the authors.

    The Rest
    The remainder of the techniques evaluated by Dunlosky and his colleagues fell into the middle ground—not useless, but not especially effective either. These include mental imagery, or coming up with pictures that help you remember text (which is time-consuming and only works with text that lends itself to images); elaborative interrogation, or asking yourself “why” as you read (which is kind of annoying, like having a 4-year-old tugging at your sleeve); self-explanation, or forcing yourself to explain the text in detail instead of passively reading it over (its effectiveness depends on how complete and accurate your explanations are); interleaved practice, or mixing up different types of problems (there is not much evidence to show that this is helpful, outside of learning motor tasks); and lastly the keyword mnemonic, or associating new vocabulary words, usually in a foreign language, with an English word that sounds similar—so, for example, learning the French word for key, la clef, by imagining a key on top of a cliff (which is a lot of work to remember a single word).

    All these techniques were rated of “moderate” to “low” utility by Dunlosky et al because either there isn’t enough evidence yet to be able to recommend them or they’re just not a very good use of your time. Much better, say the authors, to spread out your learning, ditch your highlighter and get busy with your flash cards. (You can browse past issues of the Brilliant Report by clicking here.)

    I love to hear from readers. Please email me at You can also visit my website, follow me on Twitter, and join the conversation on Facebook. Be brilliant!

    Can the Minerva Project do to Ivy League universities what Amazon did to Borders?

    The Wall Street Journal

    Ben Nelson: The Man Who Would Overthrow Harvard

    Can the Minerva Project do to Ivy League universities what Amazon did to Borders?



    ‘If you think as we do,” says Ben Nelson, “Harvard’s the world’s most valuable brand.” He doesn’t mean only in higher education. “Our goal is to displace Harvard. We’re perfectly happy for Harvard to be the world’s second most valuable brand.”

    Listening to Mr. Nelson at his spare offices in San Francisco’s Mid-Market, a couple of adjectives come to mind. Generous (to Harvard) isn’t one. Nor immodest. Here’s a big talker with bold ideas. Crazy, too, in that Silicon Valley take-a-flier way.

    Mr. Nelson founded and runs the Minerva Project. The school touts itself as the first elite—make that “e-lite”—American university to open in 100 years. Or it will be when the first class enters in 2015. Mr. Nelson, who previously led the online photo-sharing company Snapfish, wants to topple and transcend the American academy’s economic and educational model.

    And why not? Higher education’s product-delivery system—a professor droning to a limited number of students in a room—dates back a thousand years. The industry’s physical plant (dorms, classrooms, gyms) often a century or more. Its most expensive employees, tenured faculty, can’t be fired. The price of its product (tuition) and operating costs have outpaced inflation by multiples.

    In similar circumstances, Wal-Mart took out America’s small retail chains. Amazon crushed Borders. And Harvard will have to make way for . . . Minerva? “There is no better case to do something that I can think of in the history of the world,” says Mr. Nelson.

    Some people regarded as serious folks have bought the pitch, superlatives and all. Larry Summers, the former Harvard president, agreed to be the chairman of Minerva’s advisory board. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who led the New School in New York from 2001-10, heads the fundraising arm. Stephen Kosslyn, previously dean of social sciences at Harvard, is Minerva’s founding academic dean. Benchmark, a venture-capital firm that financed eBay and Twitter, last year made its largest-ever seed investment, $25 million, in Minerva.

    Mr. Nelson calls Minerva a “reimagined university.” Sure, there will be majors and semesters. Admission requirements will be “extraordinarily high,” he says, as at the Ivies. Students will live together and attend classes. And one day, an alumni network will grease job and social opportunities.

    But Minerva will have no hallowed halls, manicured lawns or campus. No fraternities or sports teams. Students will spend their first year in San Francisco, living together in a residence hall. If they need to borrow books, says Mr. Nelson, the city has a great public library. Who needs a student center with all of the coffee shops around?

    Each of the next six semesters students will move, in cohorts of about 150, from one city to another. Residences and high-tech classrooms will be set up in the likes of São Paulo, London or Singapore—details to come. Professors get flexible, short-term contracts, but no tenure. Minerva is for-profit.

    The business buzzword here is the “unbundling” of higher education, or disaggregation. Since the founding of Oxford in the 12th century, universities, as the word implies, have tried to offer everything in one package and one place. In the world of the Web and Google, physical barriers are disappearing.

    Mr. Nelson wants to bring this technological disruption to the top end of the educational food chain, and at first look Minerva’s sticker price stands out. Freed of the costs of athletics, the band and other pricey campus amenities, a degree will cost less than half the average top-end private education, which is now over $50,000 a year with room and board.

    His larger conceit, inspired or outlandish, is to junk centuries of tradition and press the reset button on the university experience. Mr. Nelson offers a fully-formed educational philosophy with a practiced salesman’s confidence. At Minerva, introductory courses are out. For Econ or Psych 101, buy some books or sign up for one of the MOOCs—as in massive open online course—on the Web.

    “Too much of undergrad education is the dissemination of basic information that at that level of student you should expect them to know,” he says. “We just feel we don’t have any moral standing to charge you thousands of dollars for learning what you can learn for free.” Legacy universities move students to their degrees through packed, required lecture classes, which Mr. Nelson calls their “profit pools.” And yes, he adds, all schools are about raking in money, even if most don’t pay taxes by claiming “not-for-profit” status.

    In the Nelson dream curriculum, all incoming students take the same four yearlong courses. His common core won’t make students read the Great Books. “We want to teach you how to think,” Mr. Nelson says. A course on “multimodal communications” works on practical writing and debating skills. A “formal systems class” goes over “everything from logic to advanced stats, Big Data, to formal reasoning, to behavioral econ.”

    Over the next three years, Minervaites take small, discussion-heavy seminars via video from their various locations. Classes will be taped and used to critique not only how students handle the subjects, but also how they apply the reasoning and communication skills taught freshman year.

    The idea for Minerva grew out of Mr. Nelson’s undergraduate experience. As a freshman at Penn’s Wharton School, he took a course on the history of the university. “I realized that what the universities are supposed to be is not what they are,” he says. “That the concept of universities taking great raw material and teaching how it can have positive impact in the world is gone.”

    Undergraduates come in, take some random classes, settle on a major and “oh yeah, you’re going to pick up critical thinking in the process by accident.” By his senior year, Mr. Nelson was pushing for curriculum changes as chairman of a student committee on undergraduate education. As a 21-year-old, he designed Penn’s still popular program of preceptorials, which are small, short-term and noncredit seminars offered “for the sake of learning.”

    A Wharton bachelor’s degree in economics took him to consulting at Dean & Company in Washington, D.C. “My first six months, what did the consulting firm teach me? They didn’t teach me the basics of how they do business. They taught me how to think. I didn’t know how to check my work. I didn’t think about order of magnitude. I didn’t have habits of mind that a liberal arts education was supposed to have given me. And not only did I not have it, none of my other colleagues had it—people who had graduated from Princeton and Harvard and Yale.”


    After joining Snapfish in 1999 and leaving as CEO a little over a decade later, Mr. Nelson, who is 38 and married with a daughter, wrote and shopped around his business plan for Minerva. He says he considered partnering with existing institutions, but decided to build a 21st-century school from scratch to offer the “ideal education.”

    Ideas like his are not in short supply. The catch? No one has found a way to make a steady profit on an ed-tech startup.

    Going back to the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, many have tried. With $120 million from Michael Milken and Larry Ellison and a board of big names, UNext launched in 1997 as a Web-based graduate university. It failed. Fathom, a for-profit online-learning venture founded by Columbia University in 2000, closed three years and several million in losses later.

    In the current surge of investment in new educational companies, Minerva has no direct competitor but plenty of company. Udacity and Coursera, two prominent startups, are looking to monetize the proliferation of MOOCs. UniversityNow offers cheap, practical courses online and at brick-and-mortar locations in the Bay Area. And so on.

    Education accounts for 8.7% of the U.S. economy, but less than 1% of all venture capital transactions in 1995-2011 and only 0.3% of total public market capitalization, as of 2011, according to Global Silicon Valley Advisors. The group predicts the market for postsecondary “eLearning” and for-profit universities will grow by double digits annually over the next five years.

    Mr. Nelson’s vision will be beside the point if Minerva fails to attract paying students. He makes a straightforward business case. Harvard and other top schools take only a small share of qualified applicants, and for 30 years have refused to meet growing demand. A new global middle class—some 1.5 billion people—desperately wants an elite American education. “The existing model doesn’t work,” he says. “The market was begging for a solution.”

    Audacious ideas are easy to pick apart, and Mr. Nelson’s are no exception. He repeats “elite” to describe a startup without a single student. Reputations are usually earned over time. Many prospective students dream of Harvard for the brand. Even at around $20,000 a year—no bargain for middle-class Chinese 18-year-olds—Minerva won’t soon have the Harvard cachet.

    Any education startup must also brave a regulatory swamp. By opting out of government-backed student-loan programs, Minerva won’t have to abide by many of the federal rules for so-called Title IV (of the relevant 1965 law) schools. Americans won’t have an edge in admissions and Minerva expects most students will come from abroad.

    But Mr. Nelson wants to be part of the club whose price of entry is accreditation. A cartel sanctioned by Congress places a high barrier to entry for newcomers, stifling educational innovation. Startups face a long slog to get accredited. So last month Minerva chose to partner with the Keck Graduate Institute, or KGI, a small school founded in 1997 that is part of the Claremont consortium of colleges near Los Angeles. Minerva degrees will now have, pending the regulatory OK, an accreditor’s seal of approval.

    With this move, Mr. Nelson eased one headache and raised some questions. KGI offers only graduate degrees in life sciences, an unusual fit for an undergraduate startup. KGI isn’t a recognizable international name for Minerva to market. Yet Mr. Nelson says the schools are “completely complementary” and the deal represents “zero change in our mission.”

    Among the other marketing challenges: Won’t Minerva undergrads miss out on lifelong bonding built in classrooms, dorms and next to the keg? Traveling across the world, Mr. Nelson says, will bring people even closer together. Campus activities? Imagine a college newspaper with 25 foreign bureaus, he shoots back, or the cultural attractions of the world’s great cities. “If you want to be an intercollegiate fencer, do not come to Minerva. Bad idea,” he says. “There are a lot of traditional experiences that a traditional university will provide you that we will not.”

    Effusive on every other topic, Mr. Nelson turns vague when I bring up Minerva’s finances. Skeptical investors have seen this movie before. Mr. Nelson doesn’t even hint at projected profit or a growth timetable. He says the school has to become roughly the size of an Ivy League university, enrolling around 10,000 students, to break even. “Making your profit, your substantial revenue, based on 18-year-olds is not the mover,” he says. “It’s what you do with them. It’s how you build the brand.”

    If the bulk of revenues won’t come from undergrads, then where? “We’ll see,” he says. Perhaps executive education, or licensing classroom content or technology, or putting on conferences. “Our enterprise value will not be derived nearly as much from our ‘E’ as much as P/E,” he says, as in the price/earnings ratio. “It isn’t about maximizing profits. It’s all about how the brand unlocks the future potential earnings.” Harvard, a multibillion-dollar operation, is a business more than an academic model.

    Whether or not Mr. Nelson and Minerva shake up American higher education, someone will.

    Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.

    Where The Smart Kids Are

    The Brilliant Blog, by Annie Murphy Paul

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    Note to Brilliant readers: What follows is my review of a new book by journalist Amanda Ripley, “The Smartest Kids In The World: And How They Got That Way.” The review will appear on the cover of this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. I found Ripley’s book to be powerful and persuasive reading, and thought I’d share my take on it with you.—Annie

    “If you want the American dream, go to Finland.” These blunt words from a British politician, quoted by Amanda Ripley in “The Smartest Kids in the World,” may lead readers to imagine that her book belongs to a very particular and popular genre. We love to read about how other cultures do it better (stay slim, have sex, raise children). In this case, Ripley is offering to show how other nations educate students so much more effectively than we do, and her opening pages hold out a promising suggestion of masochistic satisfaction. “American educators described Finland as a silky paradise,” she writes, “a place where all the teachers were admired and all the children beloved.”

    The appeal of these books, which include “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” “Bringing Up Bébé” and “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (excerpted in The Wall Street Journal under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”), comes from the opportunity to wallow enjoyably in envy and self-loathing — and then to close the cover, having changed nothing. We’re Americans, after all. We’re not really going to do it the Chinese way or the French way, superior as they may be.

    But Ripley, a contributor to Time magazine and The Atlantic and an Emerson fellow at the New America Foundation (where I am also a fellow), has a more challenging, and more interesting, project in mind. Yes, she travels to Finland to observe the “Nordic robots” who achieve such remarkably high scores on international tests — and to South Korea and Poland, two other nations where students handily surpass Americans’ mediocre performance. In the best tradition of travel writing, however, she gets well beneath the glossy surfaces of these foreign cultures, and manages to make our own culture look newly strange.

    In reporting her book, Ripley made the canny choice to enlist “field agents” who could penetrate other countries’ schools far more fully than she: three American students, each studying abroad for a year. Kim, a restless 15-year-old from rural Oklahoma, heads off to Finland, a place she had only read about, “a snow-castle country with white nights and strong coffee.” Instead, what she finds is a trudge through the cold dark, to a dingy school with desks in rows and an old-fashioned chalkboard — not an iPad or interactive whiteboard in sight. What Kim’s school in the small town of Pietarsaari does have is bright, talented teachers who are well trained and love their jobs.

    This is the first hint of how Finland does it: rather than “trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture through dazzlingly complex performance evaluations and value-added data analysis,” as we do, they ensure high-quality teaching from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are themselves far more demanding than such programs in America. A virtuous cycle is thus initiated: better-prepared, better-trained teachers can be given more autonomy, leading to more satisfied teachers who are also more likely to stay on.

    Kim soon notices something else that’s different about her school in Pietarsaari, and one day she works up the courage to ask her classmates about it. “Why do you guys care so much?” Kim inquires of two Finnish girls. “I mean, what makes you work hard in school?” The students look baffled by her question. “It’s school,” one of them says. “How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” It’s the only sensible answer, of course, but its irrefutable logic still eludes many American students, a quarter of whom fail to graduate from high school. Ripley explains why: Historically, Americans “hadn’t needed a very rigorous education, and they hadn’t gotten it. Wealth had made rigor optional.” But now, she points out, “everything had changed. In an automated, global economy, kids needed to be driven; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives. They needed a culture of rigor.”

    Rigor on steroids is what Ripley finds in South Korea, the destination of another of her field agents. Eric, who attended an excellent public school back home in Minnesota, is shocked at first to see his classmates in the South Korean city of Busan dozing through class. Some wear small pillows that slip over their wrists, the better to sleep with their heads on their desks. Only later does he realize why they are so tired — they spend all night studying at hagwons, the cram schools where Korean kids get their real education.

    Ripley introduces us to Andrew Kim, “the $4 million teacher,” who makes a fortune as one of South Korea’s most in-demand hagwon instructors, and takes us on a ride-along with Korean authorities as they raid hagwons in Seoul, attempting to enforce a 10 p.m. study curfew. Academic pressure there is out of control, and government officials and school administrators know it — but they are no match for ambitious students and their parents, who understand that passing the country’s stringent graduation exam is the key to a successful, prosperous life.

    Ripley is cleareyed about the serious drawbacks of this system: “In Korea, the hamster wheel created as many problems as it solved.” Still, if she had to choose between “the hamster wheel and the moon bounce that characterized many schools in the United States,” she would reluctantly pick the hamster wheel: “It was relentless and excessive, yes, but it also felt more honest. Kids in hamster-wheel countries knew what it felt like to grapple with complex ideas and think outside their comfort zone; they understood the value of persistence. They knew what it felt like to fail, work harder and do better. They were prepared for the modern world.” Not so American students, who are eased through high school only to discover, too late, that they lack the knowledge and skill to compete in the global economy.

    The author’s third stop is Poland, a country that has scaled the heights of international test-score rankings in record time by following the formula common to Finland and South Korea: well-trained teachers, a rigorous curriculum and a challenging exam required of all graduating seniors. In the city of Wroclaw, Ripley meets up with Tom, a bookish teenager from Pennsylvania, and discovers yet another difference between the schools in top-performing countries and those in the United States. In Tom’s hometown high school, Ripley observes, sports were “the core culture.” Four local reporters show up to each football game. In Wroclaw, “sports simply did not figure into the school day; why would they? Plenty of kids played pickup soccer or basketball games on their own after school, but there was no confusion about what school was for — or what mattered to kids’ life chances.”

    It’s in moments like these that Ripley succeeds in making our own culture and our own choices seem alien — quite a feat for an institution as familiar and fiercely defended as high school. The question is whether the startling perspective provided by this masterly book can also generate the will to make changes. For all our griping about American education, Ripley notes, we’ve got the schools we want.

    Your Daughter Is A Dork, And That’s Okay

    The Huffington Post

    By Rachel Weiss, Posted: 08/01/2013 6:23 am

    When I was in middle school, I was an unapologetic dork. I played the saxophone, practiced Spanish with zest, was always picked last for sports teams and couldn’t be bothered with typical “girly” pursuits. As a hobby, I created a newsletter (there were no blogs in those days), deciphering and analyzing lyrics of popular music such as New Edition, Prince and Culture Club. I also had a “band” called Rachel Goes To Epcot Center — I recorded multi-tracks of original songs using a Casio keyboard, a boom box and cassette tapes. This type of eccentricity did not make me popular with the “in crowd,” and I didn’t care.

    But in high school, fitting in started to matter more. My self-esteem plummeted as other girls teased me for being different, and I struggled with peer pressure. By the time I was 14, I was nearly failing my biology and geometry courses because I was so consumed with “my outfit and boys,” as my math teacher put it at the time.

    I am extremely lucky that my single mother — alarmed at that math teacher’s keen observation — forced me back into study hours and the performing arts. Once again, academics became a priority for me, and I was too focused on performing after school to become distracted. By my senior year, I was engaging with boys by tutoring them all in calculus.

    I was almost a casualty of the “leaky pipeline” for girls in STEM. My concepts of femininity and being accepted by my peers temporarily interfered with my self-esteem and my grades. And, as I look at young girls today, I’m afraid that, 30 years later, these threats still exist for young women. We see this through continually decreasing numbers of girls pursuing education in math and science. And cutting budgets for the arts (my saving grace) doesn’t help.

    Research shows that parental attitudes can play a role in preventing girls from dropping out of STEM education. Today, I’m a proud dork working in technology: My early newsletters are now my blog, and my recordings have transformed into a podcast. I’m surrounded by amazing smart people — many of whom are also proud dorks — and I founded L’Oreal’s Women In Digital program to celebrate the importance of women working in technology-related fields. And the person I have to thank for my success is my mom.

    If you are a parent of a young girl, I urge you to support your daughters who love math, science, technology and the arts and encourage them to stay on their paths. (I am a supporter of what I like to call “STE[A]M,” as the arts helped me get through many tough times). Here are some tips to help them along the way.

    Cheer Them On. My mother encouraged me to keep singing, dancing and performing — keeping me out of trouble and involved in my community. She always came to my crazy performances. If you ever meet her, ask her to tell you about my voice recital where I sang a song called “If My Dog Were Green” and the time I joined a Christian performance church group (I’m Jewish.) This encouragement helped me get my self-esteem in check and taught me to be proud of what I loved to do.

    Teach Them To Code. Encourage your girls to responsibly express themselves through technology. These skills can provide them with economic viability and a career. My grandfather once told me, “If you learn to type, you will always have a job.” Today, girls need to learn how technology works to build a foundation for their future endeavors.

    Encourage Failure. I know that it’s okay to fail, to make mistakes, to not know all of the answers and to doubt your own judgments. My mother instilled this in me. When I didn’t get the part I wanted in a play, she’d always ask me if I did the best I could and that was all that mattered.

    Don’t Force A Plan. I see so many young girls under heaps of pressure, and I truly believe that sometimes honing your critical thinking skills is more important than focusing on a career path. I sure didn’t know where I’d be today when I was in college — it took me many years (and mistakes) before I felt like I was “in the right job.” But my professional skills included problem-solving, writing, speaking and math — these skills can be used for any successful career.

    Follow Rachel Weiss on Twitter:

    A Rainbow Over Catholic Colleges

    The New York Times

    Michelle Xu/The Hoya

    Georgetown students wind their way through a metaphorical closet door. Relations between the university and its gay students were not always this good.

    Published: July 30, 2013

    “COME out of the closet in style!” read the poster, and on a crisp fall day, dozens of students on Georgetown’s Red Square did, metaphorically at least. They formed a winding conga line and sashayed through a life-size closet door. That afternoon, they gathered for same-sex smooching in a campus “kiss-in.”

    Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

    “Society is changing,” says Nate Tisa, Georgetown’s first openly gay student body president. “And God is in that change.”

    The day’s events were part of “OUTober,” a month jam-packed with celebrations related to all things L.G.B.T.Q., or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning. “Every month is a good month to be gay at Georgetown,” said Thomas Lloyd, president of the campus pride group. Indeed, there’s a Gender Liberation Week, Gay Pride Month, a popular drag ball called Genderfunk and a Lavender graduation ceremony attended by the university president.

    Not so long ago, relations between the university and its gay students were strained. In 1980, the students had to sue for equal privileges for their organizations. In 2007, they stormed the steps of Healy Hall, protesting what they saw as an inadequate response to antigay incidents. And a 2008 survey found that 61 percent of students thought homophobia was an issue. That year, the administration began to address the problem, opening an L.G.B.T.Q. resource center with a full-time staff.

    Further honing its current image as a gay-friendly campus, in March Nate Tisa became Georgetown’s first openly gay student body president. Mr. Tisa, who clocked numerous hours at church retreats and religious summer camps as a boy in Rochester, N.Y., has called on the university to lead the church toward a new interpretation of homosexuality. “Society is changing,” Mr. Tisa wrote in The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, “and God is in that change — do not reject it.”

    As the national gay rights movement touches down in state legislatures, the Supreme Court and even the Boy Scouts, it is also being felt at many of the nation’s 267 Roman Catholic colleges and universities, where students and administrators are grappling with what it means to be young, gay and Catholic in 2013.

    Perhaps nowhere has the movement been more visible than at the country’s oldest Catholic university.

    “Georgetown has made a huge commitment to its L.G.B.T.Q. community,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national nonprofit group. “It has a history. It has a past. But today it is pushing the needle forward.”

    The support for gay students has elicited nods of approval from many alumni, but it has agitated others. Some say that Georgetown is losing sight of its Catholic mission and has become a hotbed for viewpoints that conflict with church teachings. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” says to “respect” homosexuals — an attitude suggested by Pope Francis in his remarks this week regarding gay priests. But it denounces homosexual sex as “contrary to the natural law”; homosexuality is thus, some argue, not part of God’s plan.

    Shortly after Mr. Tisa’s victory, William Peter Blatty, the octogenarian author of “The Exorcist,” and Manuel A. Miranda, a fellow alumnus, circulated a petition and 198-page memorandum condemning Georgetown for promoting a culture of “moral relativism” and an ideology of “radical autonomy.” More than 2,000 alumni have signed the petition, which was sent in May to Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. The petition calls on the archbishop to better regulate the university or strip it of its Catholic identity, an unlikely but technically possible outcome.

    “The petition’s primary aim is very much akin to pressuring someone that you love very much into going into rehab,” Mr. Blatty wrote me in an e-mail. He has deep roots at Georgetown. He attended on full scholarship, set his blockbuster horror story on campus and named his new watchdog group, the Father King Society to Make Georgetown Honest, Catholic and Better, after the late Thomas M. King, a beloved theology professor.

    Other groups, too, have made it their business to monitor Catholic colleges. TheFellowship of Catholic Scholars was critical of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama, who supports abortion rights, to give a commencement address. The Cardinal Newman Society, founded in 1993 by a Fordham University alumnus, has attacked Boston College for turning a blind eye when students distribute condoms and DePaul University for allowing a production of “The Vagina Monologues.” The Cardinal Newman Society has also taken aim at Georgetown for Genderfunk. This year, a male student went as a high-heeled Mary and danced to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” while Jesus (a woman) looked on.

    Several pages of the Georgetown memorandum are dedicated to Mr. Tisa, his “irrepressible and well-trained gay agenda” and his attempts at “cleverly redefining what Catholic means.”

    Cardinal Wuerl declined to comment, but Rachel Pugh, a Georgetown spokeswoman, pointed to the university’s two required theology classes and up to seven Sunday Masses at the main chapel as evidence that it is deeply connected to its Catholic identity. The university also organizes church retreats and regular Eucharistic adoration ceremonies. Dozens of priests live on campus and serve as spiritual mentors.

    “Our Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger,” Ms. Pugh said. “Academically, we remain committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

    Many students have an entirely secular experience at Georgetown. Sitting on a knoll overlooking the Potomac River, the university is a magnet for political junkies wanting access to the Capitol. But the obsession with politics is only part of the Georgetown story. Half of undergraduates identify as Catholic. The university’s religious underpinnings are embedded in its philosophy, and so, too, is what some students refer to as “the God conversation,” a dialogue about Jesuit values that regularly arises inside and outside of class.

    The Jesuit educational model created by St. Ignatius of Loyola has a distinctly humanist bent. Todd A. Olson, Georgetown’s dean of students, says he is confident that providing gay students support, freedom of expression and a place to celebrate who they are does not conflict with the university’s Jesuit heritage. He cites cura personalis, the Jesuit tenet that loosely translates into care of the whole person, saying that Georgetown has an obligation to concern itself with the well-being of all its students.

    “What is important and what is behind that is that each person has individual needs,” Dr. Olson said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

    The university, he said, is careful not to take positions or advocate behavior that contradicts church teachings. The resource center, for example, does not distribute condoms or provide safe-sex counseling.

    Its guides are Pope John Paul II’s 1990 document outlining administrators’ roles and responsibilities and a sister report, released in 1999 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, exploring how the Pope’s words ought to be applied. The latter document urges administrators to “enjoy institutional autonomy” and foster academic debate but to consistently uphold teachings about homosexuality, abortion, family planning and premarital sex. These seemingly contradictory missions have caused tension in recent years, particularly as Catholic institutions seek to educate and protect the health of their students, many of whom are sexually active.

    LAST year, Ryan Fecteau became the first openly gay speaker of the General Assembly at the Catholic University of America, which is run by the church. Mr. Fecteau spent much of his term urging the administration to recognize the university’s gay-alliance group. Ultimately, administrators denied the request, counterarguing that a gay advocacy group really wasn’t part of the Catholic mission. He says he achieved a partial victory: a universitywide debate on the issue.

    Mr. Fecteau is one of a growing band of student leaders who are Catholic, gay and seeking institutional changes through a mix of political maneuvering and theological debate.

    In 2011, students at DePaul, the largest Catholic university in the country, elected Anthony Alfano as its first openly gay student body president. Mr. Alfano lobbied successfully for a resource center and also worked to raise awareness about high suicide rates among young gay Catholics. Gay leaders at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio last year persuaded administrators to alter the code of conduct to include language condemning violence stemming from sexual orientation.

    During his sophomore year as vice speaker of the student senate and his junior year as speaker, Mr. Tisa helped produce a report on the challenges that incoming gay students face when they arrive. While students found a welcoming environment in the L.G.B.T.Q. Resource Center, with its beanbags, Diet Cokes and lots of students to share thoughts with, Georgetown was still a scary place to come out. Some complained of intolerant, sometimes verbally abusive roommates, and resident assistants unskilled at addressing altercations.

    The report proposed several initiatives — a gender-neutral dorm and a Safe Spaces program that would designate rooms on every dorm floor where gay and minority students could retreat if needed. Last spring, Mr. Tisa began vigorously pushing for both.

    There are other issues on his agenda. At the last student government meeting of the school year, Mr. Tisa and his cabinet members gathered in their usual conference room, decorated with a basketball net, ratty couch and long wood table on which sat a copy of “The Politics of the Presidency.” Mr. Tisa polished off a slice of cold pizza before launching into a discussion on several green initiatives and a report outlining ways to make the campus friendlier for students with disabilities. One cabinet member suggested that a neighborhood cleanup drive, intended to soothe perennially tense community relations, had gone so well they might do them more often. Mr. Tisa shook his head an emphatic “no,” adding dryly of the neighbors, “I don’t want them to get too dependent.”

    Later, I asked Mr. Tisa about the petition sitting on the archbishop’s desk. Had he been offended by the remarks about him? “No,” he said dispassionately. “They just don’t get it.”

    Many of Georgetown’s straight students say they are proud of the university’s work on behalf of gay students, largely because they see it as a civil rights issue. Maggie Cleary, a senior and former head of the Georgetown University College Republicans, said she thought it was important for gay students to feel welcome on campus and for those who might not have a lot of experience with openly gay people to be exposed to them.

    According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 62 percent of 18- to 34-year-old Catholics favor legalizing same-sex marriage, compared with 48 percent of those 35 to 54, and 39 percent 55 and over.

    But in a much-talked-about opinion piece in April in The Hoya, titled “Marriage an Institution Defined by Procreation,” Andrew Schilling, a government major from Iowa, argued in support of the church’s stance on homosexuality. “True compassion for our L.G.B.T. friends,” he wrote, did not mean turning “marriage into a legal tool for social inclusion.”

    Mr. Schilling said he was chastised for his opinions. “I can feel like my voice is being silenced,” he said.

    Asked about this, Mr. Tisa said he thought it was crucial that all students express themselves on these issues. Still, he said, for gay students, certain viewpoints can be difficult to hear. “For a lot of people these are not abstract debates,” he said. “They’re personal.”

    At a Formica table in his split-level dorm suite, wearing khakis and a Georgetown sweatshirt, Mr. Tisa was eager to discuss his own coming out.

    He attended a Jesuit high school, where, tall and broad-shouldered, he played football. Early on, he began to suspect he was gay. It was as tortuous internally as it was externally. Would he have to choose between God and a happy life?

    His faith had brought him strength as a child dealing with his parents’ divorce. Once again, he found solace in prayer, and in conversations with other Catholics. The first person he shared his story with was a layperson he had grown close to during weekend youth retreats. “She said, ‘I love you. God loves you. And I’m here for you,’ ” he recalled. “Then we cried.” That encounter, he said, reminded him that Catholic teachings were “based on love, not condemnation.”

    “I really wanted to be part of that,” he said.

    During Thanksgiving break his freshman year, Mr. Tisa broke the news to his parents. This past year, he wrote an opinion piece telling the entire campus. “Baby, we were born this way,” he proclaimed, calling on Georgetown to become a voice for a new Catholicism, one that supports the entirety of a gay person’s life.

    Diane Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion,” says many gay students find it too painful to stay in the church. “Those who do,” she said, “remain because there is something about the church they find beautiful and soothing. And they end up determining for themselves the things that they believe are central to being Catholic.”

    Kimberly Blair, a gay junior from Atlanta, remembers the discomfort she felt at a Bible study group freshman year. Club members were reading from the Book of Leviticus and discussing the morality of homosexuality:

    If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

    “I was sitting in the front row and I honestly started crying.” she said.

    Mr. Lloyd, the pride group president, says he is often tempted to join the more tolerant Episcopal Church. But for many young Catholics, particularly of Irish or Italian descent, Catholicism is interchangeable with identity. “You stay Catholic because you have a love of the institution and you want to change it,” he said.

    It has taken Mr. Tisa years of reflection to work through how his sexual orientation and his Catholic faith can coexist. He refuses to accept that his relationship with another man is “intrinsically disordered,” as described in church catechism. And he is quite sure of this: “God is not a child in a sandbox, making sculptures and throwing them away.”

    It is a message he is intent on spreading across campus with evangelical verve. As he often tells students: “We need to bring the Catholic identity into the 21st century.”

    Can he do that from his perch at Georgetown?

    “Yes,” Mr. Tisa said. “I have a lot of faith.”

    Kyle Spencer writes on education from New York.