Georgia Tech announced yesterday that it is teaming up with Udacity, one of the leading providers of massively open online education, to offer a full graduate program in computer science. For a mere $7,000 dollars—or 1/6 the cost of the equivalent program offered on campus—students who meet the prerequisites can fulfill the requirements of a master’s degree entirely through open courseware.
This is a big deal. As the Washington Post notes, even MOOC-friendly colleges like Stanford, Harvard, and San Jose State have been reluctant to actually grant credentials for their online courses, preferring to use them as a teaching aids rather than as the foundation of a program. There have been the usual concerns about quality control, as well as worries that an all-MOOC degree could dilute the value of Georgia Tech’s traditional degrees, but Georgia Tech claims it has taken these concerns into account:
Notably, the university said it hoped to admit anyone who meets its admissions requirement, which it emphasized remain stringent. It estimated it could eventually enroll 10,000 students in the program, in a field facing a shortage of workers. That’s nearly half the size of the whole student body on Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus.
“We’re turning down people that are probably capable. We just can’t handle them,” said Rafael Bras, Georgia Tech’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who said current demand for the program outstrips supply by 10 to 1. “We’re now reaching out to the world through a different medium. There’s a lot of people out there that will have this great opportunity.”
At $7,000 per student and with these kinds of enrollment numbers, this may be not just a boon for students but a good way of significantly widening Georgia Tech’s student base: 10,000 is a lot of students, and the open nature of MOOCs makes it relatively simple to scale up without dramatically expanding staff or administrative costs.
This is the first program of its kind, so nobody knows if the students it graduates will pass muster in the marketplace. But the potential for both cutting costs and broadening the educational base is certainly there. Rest assured we will be watching to see how this experiment shapes up.