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The Revolution In Online Education Nearing Takeoff

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The revolution in online education continues. It’s just taking longer than it should.

Two years ago, the Georgia Institute of Technology partnered with Udacity, a company that runs massively open online courses (MOOCs) and ATT to launch an online masters degree in computer science charging a fraction the cost per credit hour. Georgia Tech was staking its academic reputation on its ability to deliver a quality education online. (Here was my spin on the story at that time.)

So, how is the program working two and a half years later? According to a Wall Street Journal update, the online program has evolved but looks like it has staying power. The program is “relatively massive” with 2,789 students enrolled this semester compared with 312 in the campus-based program. And it’s on track to turn a profit by May.

If there are any drawbacks, it’s that students are moving through the program at a slower pace than the school predicted. “It’s not like they’re not making progress,” said Charles Isbell Mr., senior associate dean at the College of Computing. “They’re making progress at a more leisurely pace than we expected.”

But that should come as no surprise given that many students are juggling their online courses with full-time jobs. Sandip Agrawal, didn’t want to leave San Francisco or his job as a Google software engineer so he enrolled in the Georgia Tech program to build his technical skills and professional credentials, said theWSJ. The alternative to the Georgia Tech degree would have been stringing together a few massive, open online courses and forgoing an accredited degree. That George Tech degree, by the way, will cost $7,000 compared to $38,000 for the bricks-and-mortar version, and Agrawal continues pulling in a salary.

Little wonder that Georgia Tech’s Isbell says it wouldn’t surprise him if in three years from now the program will be enrolling 10,000 students. Says he: “This is sustainable and this is scalable.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Here in Virginia, tuition and fees are still rising faster than inflation and incomes. A generation of students is agreeing to a life of indentured servitude in order to obtain a college degree (all too often, never even completing the degree requirements). There will always be a market for the four-year “residential” experience with football games, face-to-face interaction with professors, tossing frisbees on the quad, drunken frat parties and kvetching about racism and the rape epidemic on campus. But the residential experience, which seems so distressing to so many, is increasingly becoming a luxury product for the affluent classes. It is not a viable alternative for hundreds of thousands of Virginians. Something has got to change — and it will.

(The article first ran in Bacons Rebellion on December 15, 2015)

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