In a world of skyrocketing tuition costs and a surging demand for higher education, students across the globe are finding it harder than ever to locate affordable college options. That’s why Coursera’s recent announcement to partner with Antioch University in providing students actual college credit for completing free online courses is making such bold headlines today; this one decision will literally change the scope of online college courses forever and up the pressure even more on other universities to follow suit.
So what exactly is Coursera, you ask? Over the past 9 months, over 33 of the nation’s top universities joined an initiative to provide completely free college courses over the Internet to aspiring students across the globe. There are no hidden catches or fine print to read either; simply log into the Coursera homepage, choose a class you wish to take, and then get to work with a series of recorded lectures and textbook assignments. There is homework and testing, just like it traditional classrooms, and this program mimics a college classroom very well.
“A year ago, online education was something people would look askance at, as a not completely respectable form of education,” says Daphne Koller, a Stanford professor and one of the co-founders of the online education site Coursera. “Now it’s something which every institution is figuring out how to use and how quickly.”
In fact, Koller states that this social experiment’s goal was never about course credit to begin with; it was simply a way to educate the world regardless of financial background, race, or region. By providing free courses from several of the best colleges in the United States and abroad, it opens doors that would otherwise be permanently closed to millions of potential students worldwide.
Up until recently, students were simply offered a “certificate of completion” or even nothing at all for finishing one of Coursera’s online classes with a passing grade. While many would argue that the free education alone outweighs any type of formal credit towards graduation, it was really only a matter of time before one university stepped forward and offered collegiate credit since students were effectively completing the same course as traditional enrollees on campuses.
Koller believes that type of thinking will soon be a thing of the past. “In 10 years or sooner we will look back at the days when we shoveled 300 students into an auditorium to lecture at for 3 hours a week as ‘Wow! I can’t believe we actually did it that way.’”
With over 1.75 million students from around the globe and an impressive $16 million in funding to date, Coursera has effectively changed how the world views online classrooms and the education that can be gained from within them. Other colleges and universities are already taking notice as well, so while Antioch University will go down in the history books of being the first to offer completely free college courses for full credit, they most certainly will not be the last.