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U. of Virginia launches ed-tech accelerator to support efficacious start-ups

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U. of Virginia launches an "education accelerator" that could one day grow to become a Consumer Reports for the ed-tech market.

Coursera adds corporate partners to massive open online course sequences

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Massive open online course provider Coursera adds corporate partners to its course sequences and says it has found a business model.

Do the FCC's rules on blocking mobile hot spots apply to higher education?

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After the Federal Communications Commission cracks down on blocking mobile hot spots at a hotel, IT officers are waiting to hear if the order applies to colleges and universities.

Babson Survey Research Group considers changes to annual report on distance education market

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With the federal government tallying students in online courses, the Babson Survey Research Group considers changes to its annual report on the distance education market.

The Pulse podcast features highlights from mid-Atlantic eLearning conference

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The Pulse podcast offers highlights from a regional conference on distance learning.

Parts of U. of Washington Web Site Hacked

Portions of the University of Washington's Web site were hacked Thursday, replaced with a photo of a memorial to soldiers and a threat against Americans serving in Iraq, The Seattle Times reported. University officials are investigating the incident.

 

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Free Community College? Why Not Free Freshman Year?

As President Obama sells his proposal that community college should be free, one philanthropist is arguing the idea should extend to the first year of college in general. Steven B. Klinsky, a financier who founded the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, wants students to be able to take freshman-level courses through the massive open online course provider edX and -- if they pass subject exams -- start college as sophomores. Klinsky on Wednesday announced a $1 million donation to support the effort, The Washington Post reported.

Hiring, training staffers for 'new normal' tops list of IT priorities for 2015

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Some university IT offices are struggling to keep up with the pace of change in technology, which a report describes as the "new normal" for higher education.

Essay on ways MOOCs helped and hurt debates about future of higher education

As the hype around MOOCs has subsided, a frequently asked question in university circles today is: Who have massive open online courses helped or hurt?

Providing free and open access to content from revered institutions is laudable. But enrollments at elite colleges’ MOOCs do not translate into revenue at the vast majority of colleges and universities, many of them already cash-strapped. And learning that fails to deliver credit that leads to a credential may not yield much for students, even if they enjoy the courses. MOOCs may have been more faddish than altruistic.

For MOOCs to be important long term, they must be more than a curiosity.  A 2014 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education found that only 4 percent of those who had registered for a MOOC actually completed it. The curious are obviously much less likely to see a course through to completion than are serious students seeking a credential to help them advance in their lives.

Studies like the one out of Penn suggest that MOOCs may have little long-term utility for students. And for institutions, the risks of issuing credit for MOOCs could have a serious impact on their operating income. Most of those who have created MOOCs have invested a lot of sweat equity in return for relatively little, and no meaningful income for provider universities that contributed their brand and reputation to support the concept.

Higher education needs to be affordable, but it cannot be free. As aptly observed by Michael Cusumano of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the software, music, video, book publishing, newspaper, and magazine industries are “still struggling to recover from the impact of free,” and many companies within those industries never did. In fact, two-thirds of the public software product companies operating in 1998 had shuttered by 2006. While a variety of factors may have contributed to their demise, the proliferation of free products was chief among them, points out Cusumano, a fact that should be kept in mind as we evaluate the impact of MOOCs on higher education.

At a time when many colleges and universities are struggling to justify their value proposition and find financial sustainability, marking their core product to zero seems to be misguided, an observation that is gaining currency among higher educators worldwide. This practice also raises a question whether free implies little value.

Giving away education can make sense in some cases. For instance, the country of Colombia, which has offered MOOC-like courses through SENA, its agency focused on providing practical and technical educational courses to increase employment, and India, which is considering putting high-demand courses online for workforce training may prove that free and open courses online can be effective in up-skilling societies. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these initiatives are seen as a public good and, as such, are fully funded by the government and not by institutions that need to find their way to self-sufficiency.

Using technology to deliver relevant, affordable, and credential-bearing education from top universities to help more citizens progress in their lives is within the incredible potential of the Internet and can be done inexpensively and at scale, as MOOCs have demonstrated.    

While the participation of top universities in the delivery of MOOCs has helped further legitimize online learning and infuse higher education with much needed innovation, it has not proven to be the anticipated game changer for either students or universities. History has shown us that giveaways are a gambler’s game and not a strategy for a sustainable future.  

Randy Best is the chairman and CEO of Academic Partnerships.

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Three years after launch, 'U.S. News' rankings of online programs still draw mixed response

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U.S. News & World Report continues to tweak its ranking of online programs, but critics say the publication's claims about their importance go too far.

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