The tectonic plates of higher education continue to shift and slide. The latest rumble you heard emanated from Atlanta, where the Georgia Institute of Technology recently announced that it would offer an online master’s degree in computer science at less than one-third the cost per credit hour.
Georgia Tech is partnering with Udacity, a company that runs massively open online courses (MOOCs), and AT&T, which is donating $2 million to get the program started, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The program is expected to take most students three years to complete and to cost less than $7,000. The university and Udacity will split the tuition revenue 60/40.
“This is not going to be a watered-down degree,” said Georgia Tech Provost Rafael L. Bras. “It’s going to be as hard and at a level of excellence of a regular degree.”
“These students will never have to set foot in a classroom to earn degrees on par with those received in traditional on-campus settings—degrees that will be equally valued by their future employers,” blogged Scott S. Smith, senior vice president for human resources at AT&T, which aims to ensure a stream of qualified job applicants. “By harnessing the power of MOOCs, we can embark on a new era for higher education and for the development of a highly skilled work force.”
Bacon’s bottom line: There are several significant aspects to this story. First, Georgia Tech, a highly reputable academic institution, is willing to stake its reputation on offering an online degree program. We’re not talking about Phoenix University here. Second, AT&T, a Fortune 500 company, hopes to snap up a large number of the program’s graduates. So much for the concern about the value of MOOC credentials. Thirdly and most importantly, the economics of MOOCs are such that Georgia Tech can slash prices by two-thirds.
This experiment should send paroxysms of fear into every established institution of higher education in Virginia — and across the country. Academics can talk all they want about the putative advantages of traditional, face-t0-face education, but we’ll see what students say when they are given the opportunity to cut tuition costs by two-thirds. Higher ed — and in all likelihood, much of K-12 education — will be disrupted as thoroughly as newspapers, music CDs and book retailing have been. The big question for the Old Dominion is this: Will we be in the vanguard, or will we be bringing up the rear?
The move to MOOCs will not proceed glitch-free. Much to its embarrassment, Georgia Tech had to cancel one of its MOOCs, “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application,” after a series of technical snafus. But the technology will evolve, the online pedagogy will innovate, and the experience will continue to improve.
A sign of the times: Interest in MOOCs is now so fevered that Hybrid Pedagogy, which bills itself as a digital journal of learning, teaching and technology, is launching a MOOC… about MOOCs.