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Education Reporter

My Internet Dream
When I graduated from high school, I didn't have enough money to go to college. My family had about $10,000 in life savings, and college cost $10,000 a year. I was lucky. I grew up on an Air Force base, I knew about ROTC scholarships, and I was able to finance an education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Many others aren't so lucky; they can't afford to attend college. That's bad, not only for those denied an education but also for the rest of us, denied the fruits of their education. Yet technology makes it relatively inexpensive to finance a college education for everyone who wants one. I'm so committed to this goal that I am putting my money where my mouth is: Today, I am announcing that I will donate $100 million to launch an online university.

In just the past two years the Internet has evolved to the point where large portions of a college education can be automated, uploaded, and made available through streaming video, high bandwidth lines, and ever-faster computers. It is possible today to provide a decent college education in certain disciplines for nothing more than the cost of computer hardware.

So why not capture an entire college curriculum via video? Take, say, a college calculus course, which might consist of 30 hours of lectures by a professor; 20 hours of recitations by students; 1,000 questions asked by students, 95% of which are the same year after year; followed by exams. At MIT this course and a few others like it would cost $25,000 a year, but using a computer, it would run about $200 a year per course.

It's time to create a universal knowledge database on video - a cyber-library made available to everybody. It could feature not just calculus courses taught by leading mathematicians, but Warren Buffett on investing, Scott Turow on writing, Steven Spielberg on how to direct, John Williams on how to compose, Isaac Stern on how to play the violin, and Michael Jordan on how to play basketball; all Nobel laureates on the subject that won them recognition; all Pulitzer Prize winners on their books.

This online library could be a resource not only for those living in the U.S. but in Calcutta and Beijing. For some it might replace a traditional university; for others, it would be a supplement, allowing them to take a course or two in a subject that interests them. There would still be plenty of reason to attend traditional colleges, but this would fill nooks and crannies not served by existing institutions.

This online university can stimulate interest in education. As a kid, I read books from the library, and if they hadn't been available free, I probably never would have become interested in attending college. Making available videotaped courses from Michael Jordan and Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates might encourage 12-year-olds in the inner city and beyond to pursue education.

This cyber-library can also stand as a lasting historical record. It's as though you could get all the famous Romans to describe what they thought on the day when Julius Caesar was killed.

To help make this dream a reality, I'm going to fund a nonprofit organization that establishes video recording studios to capture the course work, sets up servers to make it available for download and hires an administration to make sure the curriculum is properly designed and that students are tested and certified if they want to be. Students who enroll in this online university will be able to get a college equivalency degree or a certificate saying they passed a certain course, which they can then take to an employer and say, "I didn't go to college, but I've taken this recognized course of study."

I've got a business to run, so why am I spending my time and money on this effort? Because I think the most important issue facing the country today is the people left behind by our prosperity. The Web can't eliminate the underclass, but it can help improve the lives of the disadvantaged.

Michael Saylor is founder and CEO of MicroStrategy, a software and Internet company in Vienna, Va. This commentary originally appeared in the March 16, 2000 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Reprinted by permission.

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