College Tuition, Higher Education, MOOCs,

Can a Middle-Man Actually Reduce Costs?

Oct 27, 2017 · 2 mins read
Can a Middle-Man Actually Reduce Costs?
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What if MOOCs and traditional institutions worked together to address the two biggest problems facing US higher education: completion rates and student loan debt?

The National Center for Education Statistics finds the six-year graduation rate for first-time, bachelor degree-seeking students at a 4-year public institution is 59%. This means a third of students admitted to college will not obtain a 4-year degree, even after six years of enrollment at a college or university. Student loan default rates are among the highest for this demographic, only to be outdone by those who fail to earn a degree from for-profit institutions.

EDSurge reports MOOC completion rates reached 5.5% in early 2017, up 1.5% since 2012’s Year of the MOOC. This figure seems low, but with the average enrollment of a MOOC at 43,000 learners, a 5.5% completion rate translates to 2,365 users earning a credential per offered course. Thus, one course facilitated through a MOOC platform has the capacity to service more learners than 12% of the county’s colleges and universities that have an annual enrollment under 2,000 students.

It’s strange that MOOCs, which offer free or low-cost courses, have struggled to find a competitive edge the higher education marketplace, considering tuition and fees at the nation’s public colleges and universities is up 237% since 1997.

California and Kentucky attempted to pass legislation to allow MOOC credentials to count for college credit as a means to reduce student loan burdens, but after a few failed pilot programs and pushback from vocal faculty members brought these measures to a quick end.

But what if the model could be revised to ensure revenue for state education systems while reducing tuition costs for students? Akin to the agreements many public college and university systems have with their state’s community colleges to accept transfer credits, MOOCs can provide the same benefits to their institutional partners.

What if a student who is accepted to a school in the University of Texas system is given dual-enrollment in UTSystemX through the edX platform? This dual enrollment will allow the student to earn degree-seeking credit from any of the offer 39 courses from system’s six campuses from anywhere or anytime during the student’s career at their university?

This form of dual enrollment offers students the flexibility to take classes at their convenience at the MOOC tuition rate. Moreover the courses students take are accredited and approved through the state’s university network, they can be sure that the credits will transfer to their home institution. The UT system saves money by reducing operation costs and expanding their enrollment capacities.

Such a model also promotes completion rates since MOOC users will matriculate to degree-granting universities. Students who perceive they can earn a degree faster or with reduced barriers are more likely to complete their degree plan. Moreover, students who are actively working towards a degree have higher levels of persistence, thus increasing their likelihood of graduation.

MOOCs may have not been the disrupting force the higher education industry anticipated they would be, but with a little redirection, perhaps they can be the missing piece to the student debt puzzle.