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Billionaire pledges $100 million for free Internet university
WASHINGTON -- An Internet-era billionaire who got his college education on a scholarship has pledged $100 million to create a free university on the Internet.
Michael Saylor, president and CEO of Internet software company MicroStrategy Inc., unveiled his ambitious plans at a philanthropy summit in Washington on Thursday.
He hopes the program will educate tens of millions of people worldwide.
"It occurred to me that ... I might be able to put not a hundred or a thousand but maybe everybody through college," Saylor said.
'I owe a debt to society'
Saylor's is a hi-tech rags-to-riches story.
Just 17 months ago he was in debt $11 million for his fledgling company, but an initial public offering last year changed his fortunes. MicroStrategy's stock rocketed in less than a year from $7 a share to a year high of $333. On Thursday, it closed at just more than $248.
Saylor said that when he was young his family never had much money but always managed to give a little away. "When I graduated from high school we probably had $7,000 in life savings and didn't even own a house," he said.
The son of an Air Force noncommissioned officer, he received a Defense Department scholarship to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Left to his own to be educated, Saylor, 35, says, "I could not afford it. I owe a debt to society because they educated me."
'Free for everybody, everywhere'
Saylor's idea is to offer a college education to anyone who logs on and completes the course work. Professors and lecturers would be videotaped and delivered via the Internet. Answers to questions from students would be anticipated and taped as well.
Internet class work isn't a new idea; close to 1,700 institutions now offer online courses. Students enrolled in the online programs gain class credit and pay tuition like traditional classroom students.
Of course, Saylor's plan is to do it all at no cost to the student.
He says the Internet has changed the way people see the world and caused him to revise his views about education.
"It may be possible in the 21st century to make education free for everybody, everywhere," he said.
Hoping to recruit 'best and brightest'
Conceding his mass education plan is in its infancy, Saylor pledged the $100 million as a down payment for the project, starting with state-of-the art digital video studios where the world's "best and brightest" would deliver lectures free of charge. He hopes to have test sites up and running within the next year.
Saylor said he would build "posting facilities" to make the video available to people with access to the Internet. Next, he would campaign for governments to ensure that broadband Internet video access becomes an "entitlement."
He said, "Let's make TV what it ought to be, which is not a 15-minute sound bite. ... Let's get Bill Clinton to stand up and speak for 10 hours on what it's like to be president at the end of the 20th century."
Saylor said he does not plan to pay those who lecture online, pointing out that people line up to get onto television shows.
"I think they'll fight to get into the studio. It gives a great calculus teacher the chance to teach 100 million people," he said.
Correspondent Frank Buckley and Reuters contributed to this report.
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