In a new article for PBS NewsHour, Timothy Pratt discusses how Georgia Tech’s Computer Science MOOC Master’s Degree is a proof-of-concept for MOOCs in degree programs. One of the points he brings up is the low completion rates which, though not valid indicators of MOOC success in general, are important for degree programs.
A big reason that so many people dabble in, but don’t complete, MOOCs is that they are free—students make no financial commitment to the courses. Pratt references a study that found that paying for online courses is enough to increase completion rates to between 68% and 82% at community colleges, and indeed students at Georgia Tech are paying $6,600 for their degrees.
While $6,600 is still thousands of dollars less than a traditional master’s degree costs, it isn’t insignificant, and as one goal of MOOCs is to make education more accessible to all who want it, it seems like we can do better. One option is to charge something, but not an exorbitant amount. For example, according to Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller, pass rates among students who sign up for the company’s paid Signature Track programs (which cost about $50) are around 70%. Putting several of these courses together for larger credential, such as in Coursera’s Specializations, costs only a couple hundred dollars. But a couple hundred dollars might still be out of reach for learners in many developing countries, who are making up an increasingly larger proportion of MOOC students.
Is there a way we can raise the stakes without raising the price? Here are a few ideas:
Accredited degree programs. University of the People is a tuition-free accredited online university that is not based on MOOCs. According to the website, its completion rates are between 85% and 90%. This suggests that having “skin in the game” doesn’t necessarily require paying tuition, but that working toward a recognized credential might be enough.
Industry-recognized credentials. Not all students need degrees. Instead, they may be interested in earning certificates and badges. While many MOOCs do offer these things, there aren’t yet many industry-recognized alternative credentials available.
Employer support for continuing education. If MOOC completion were tied to promotions and raises in the same way as continuing education, the rates would probably go through the roof.
What are some other ideas for encouraging students to get more “skin in the game”?