Few distance-learning operations can boast partners as illustrious as Columbia and Stanford universities and the London School of Economics. Cardean University can, but then, it is not a typical internet-based tertiary venture.
Cardean, owned by the private company UNext, is the first online university to be awarded degree-issuing rights - by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
Internet education "will bring high-quality learning opportunities to people who could not possibly afford a full-time education at a facilities-based school," said Andrew Rosenfield, founder of UNext and a senior lecturer in law at the University of Chicago.
Cardean offers graduate programmes in business administration, information management and information technology.
Economics professor Jack Gould left the University of Chicago 18 months ago to work as Cardean's president and dean. With academics from partner institutions, he developed a curriculum based on "problem-based learning", in which "students work at their own pace but, at the same time, are not left to their own devices".
The college features short video clips and self-assessments, and encourages interaction with staff and students via email and discussion groups. Cardean faculty are academics or professionals with advanced degrees. Tutors and students can be based anywhere in the world, and as there are no set "lectures" both groups can log on when convenient.
Cardean is currently available only to workers nominated by their firms, but it will be open to all later in the year. Barclays Bank is the first company to sign up for the university.
Professor Gould said that the cost of each course, which is equal to three to five conventional university courses, is about $500 (Pounds 357). Students need to complete 45 courses to obtain an MBA.
Degrees will be awarded by Cardean in association with the partner university that developed the course: its "competitive strategy" suite of courses, for example, has been developed with the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
UNext will need to attract thousands of students if its private investors, who have poured Pounds 52 million into the venture, are to see any return. The computer system, Professor Gould said, is scalable so that it can cope with tens or even hundreds of thousands of learners.