Georgia Institute of Technology is about to take a step that could set off a broad disruption in higher education: It's offering a new master's degree in computer science, delivered through a series of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, for $6,600.
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This kind of program offering was inevitable, and has been the "vision" of many online education advocates for years. Hire the best people to create the best world-class presentations, simulations, exercises, homework, projects and exams (if you use them at all), and use the material over and over. Offer the program to anyone who is at least theoretically able to complete the content, and offer it at a reasonable price.
The implications for higher education revenue, however, are staggering, and may result in the collapse of many online "mom-and-pop" shop programs, such as those at state universities and private colleges, which need the higher revenues for programs to survive, and who have just recently invested in online education. Those who have been in the business for years will be forced to reduce tuition, lower salaries and thus qualifications of "facilitators". This may ultimately devalue doctoral degrees to the point that fewer and fewer students will pursue the doctorate, at least in traditional settings. Perhaps only full time faculty (i.e., course developers) will need PhDs to satisfy accreditation bodies It's already possible to obtain a BA, MS, and PhD in CS having never set foot on a college campus.
Another issue that the author points out and that must be overcome is the problem of massive open online course cheating (MOOCC), which I personally know to be an issue in online education today. Until the automated tools and techniques to detect and penalize infractions are in widespread use, policing this kind of cheating will be, at a minimum, very labor intensive, especially in computer science, forcing costs beyond current projections.
It is indeed a brave new world, when institutions such as GaTech jump in like this with the resources that they have at their disposal. Does this mean that we are headed for commodity education?
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