MOOCs for Professor Profit?

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are all the rage these days.  Usually they’re free.  But a provocative story in the Chronicle highlights a new service that offers “ultra-affordable” MOOCs — and the tuition paid by the online student is split between the service (StraighterLine) and the professor.  The professor chooses the price point, as long as it is above StraighterLine’s base price.  For example, one University of Colorado adjunct offers a math class.  Base price: $49. Tuition: $99.  So the professor keeps $50 per student. Professors also decide what services they will offer, and our sample math professor has decided to promise that he will respond quickly to student emails, hold online office hours every week, and create additional tutorial videos.  Presumably, course offerings and prices will vary widely as the market determines what services students demand and what they will pay for them.

A similar venture is Udemy, which uses each professor’s personal reputation as the credential that will attract students.  Two economics professors from George Mason have used the platform to start “Marginal Revolution University,” which is offering Development Economics as its inaugural course.

But will students enroll and make the course profitable?  Do faculty members participate for cash or glory or the satisfaction of helping provide education to those who can’t otherwise get access to higher education?  Maybe it’s a return to the medieval university’s use of famous lecturers to attract students, or maybe it’s just crazy.  Stay tuned.

About Beth Thornburg

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