VIA Inside Higher Ed: The Bitter Reality of MOOConomics (Carlo Salerno)

Once again, in the continuing debate over whether MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represent a genuine opening towards the future of higher education, economist Carlo Salerno analyzes the business model of these well-publicized courses (an issue we’ve discussed in our workshops and on the blog).  He writes:

Born at two of the nation’s most elite colleges, MOOCs have received an unbelievable amount of news coverage for offering the potential to solve one of the sector’s most nagging problems: how to provide world-class education for practically no consumer cost. The courses provided via MITx and by a handful of Stanford professors have generated considerable publicity, though it’s the recent announcement that Coursera (another Stanford spin-off) has lined up around a dozen elite institutions that will use their platform to offer similarly styled educational offerings that really has folks thinking MOOCs may very well be the answer to our system’s perceived ills.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
What I find fascinating about Salerno’s take is that he recognizes the same problem with MOOCs as earlier commentators: that even if universities can afford to hand out instructional materials for free (or as free as contingent faculty can make them), they cannot afford to lose selectivity over admissions or control over credentialing, if they are to maintain their institutional prestige and reputation.  These are the precise issues that caused the conflicts at UVA over Pres. Sullivan‘s firing, and they will bedevil any attempt to equate the instruction provided by MOOCs with courses in a degree program.  But the temptation to define higher education down will remain so long as institutions are faced with rising personnel costs and declining state support. We have not heard the end of this.

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