As millions of college students have been forced to move back home and take online classes because of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Princeton University grads are creating a university-like environment that's part NBA bubble, part summer camp at a Texas resort — and they say they've already had more than enough interest to fill the 150 available slots.
College friends Lane Russell, Adam Bragg and Chris Cook are behind The U Experience, which will bring together remote students at Tanglewood Resort near Lake Texoma, Texas, from Jan. 28 to April 18. The cost starts at roughly $10,000 with some scholarships options.
"We see what we’re doing in a lot of ways as similar to study abroad ... students coming from colleges all over," Russell, 24, told FOX Business.
His younger sister lost the final semester of her senior year and her final college athletic season because of the pandemic, Russell said. She's not alone in navigating the new normal of Zoom lectures and campuses that expel students for attending parties.
"The college experience is very important for a lot of reasons," Russell said. "The friends you make in college are the friends you have for life."
As traditional universities are turning into online universities with mixed results — Russell cited backlash against Harvard University for keeping its tuition the same despite going online — a space has opened for businesses looking to disrupt higher education.
"We see online learning as the future of higher education. It has the potential to make college cheap and accessible to all," Russell said. "The impediment is it's not very attractive to think of being stuck at your parents' house taking lessons on a computer and never going outside."
The U Experience will accept students from traditional four-year universities as well as virtual programs like Lambda School. The company encourages friends to apply as a group for the program that includes rec sports, weekly "TEDx-style" guest lectures and a private room for each student.
Even The U Experience's application process will be nontraditional. Students can view each others' online profiles and "like" those of their friends or students they want to meet. The student feedback won't determine admission but will play a role, Russell said.
"Why should we be selecting the class when you could?" Russell said.
After planning to open bubble campuses in Hawaii and Arkansas for the fall semester, The U Experience had to pivot because of "pushback from people who didn't understand what we're doing," Russell said.
"We were going to do Hawaii but got a lot of pushback on Twitter ... a classic cancel mob," Russell said, adding that The U Experience had spoken with local businesses from restaurants to laundry companies about partnering. "Their economy is incredibly dependent on tourism. We saw it as the best place to go."