WASHINGTON — Connor Mitchell’s university classes take place online, he doesn’t have any exams and he studies in a different country every year.

Is he looking into the future or taking a gamble?

With college costs rising steadily and with more courses available online for free, some observers are beginning to question the need for a traditional college education that might include lectures on Greek philosophy but burden students with massive debt.

Education startups are offering alternatives – from boot camps, to one- or two-year tracks, to accredited degree programs – and their founders say these options will give students a more relevant education in today’s job market, and at a lower price.

But some experts caution against betting on a narrow, practical education geared toward a specific field that is in demand today but could leave them unprepared for the jobs of tomorrow. They also say most applicants still need a college degree from an established institution to get a good job.

Minerva, an accredited four-year university named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, wants to reinvent four-year liberal arts education by teaching critical thinking as opposed to “regurgitating information,” founder Ben Nelson said.

“You cannot teach yourself how to think critically, you actually have to go through a structured process,” said Nelson, an energetic, fast-talking 41-year-old, who previously served as president of the photo printing website Snapfish. “What is sad is that wisdom is wasted on the old. Wisdom should be the tool for the young.”

All of Minerva’s classes take place online. The interactive platform is designed to keep students engaged and allow professors to call on them. Minerva students start school in San Francisco and then spend time in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Taipei, Taiwan, and other global hubs, continuing to take online classes and completing hands-on assignments at local companies and organizations.

Cost is $29,000 per year for tuition plus room and board, compared with an average of $20,000 for an in-state public college and $63,000 at Harvard, with which Minerva says it wants to compete. This year, Minerva, boasted an acceptance rate of 1.9 percent, compared with 5.2 percent at Harvard. The nationwide average in 2014 was 66 percent, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The first class launched in 2014, so it is too early to evaluate graduation and employment rates. Nelson said every single first-year student who chose to work last summer was placed in an internship. Currently, there are over 270 people enrolled at the school.

But Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who studies the U.S. labor market, believes students might be taking a big risk by signing up for a still relatively unknown program.

“It’s not what you learn, it’s what you can persuade other people what you’ve learned,” Cappelli said. “It’s hard to overcome that risk until the schools build up a brand on the market.”

But some innovators say a college degree might be obsolete.

MissionU, which began accepting its first applications last month, offers a one-year non-degree program in data analytics and business intelligence without an upfront tuition. As part of an income-sharing agreement, MissionU students will give back 15 percent of their salary for three years after graduation if they earn at least $50,000 per year. So far, the school received over 3,000 applications.

Some employers agree that traditional university education might not be as relevant in today’s economy as it once was.

Google has dropped college education from its hiring requirements, and a company official said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times that up to 14 percent of employees on some of their teams had never gone to college.