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This Way To The All-Star Degree?

We originally thought that business schools might be the first to feel the heat of the changing market for higher education. Turns out that may not be true – it might be the undergraduate market, quickly followed by the rest of higher education. 

April 30, 2015
 
 

We originally thought that business schools might be the first to feel the heat of the changing market for higher education.  Turns out that may not be true – it might be the undergraduate market, quickly followed by the rest of higher education. 

Arizona State University (ASU) and edX, the partnership between MIT and Harvard, recently announced an initiative that will allow people to do their entire first year of an undergraduate program online.  According to the announcement of an “alternative entry into higher education” on ASU’s website:

“The Global Freshman Academy will give learners anywhere in the world the opportunity to earn freshman-level university credit after successfully completing a series of digital immersion courses hosted on edX, designed and taught by leading scholars from ASU.

By allowing students to learn, explore and complete courses before applying or paying for credit, the Global Freshman Academy reimagines the freshman year and reduces academic and monetary stress while opening a new path to a college degree for many students.”

We’ve long been wondering when someone would devise the All-Star degree, whereby one institution (be it a school or another organization) would award/accept credit from a variety of education providers, be it MOOCs or other types of online, on-campus, or other forms of higher education, and bundle them together to award a degree.  We recently mused about this in the MBA market and something like this was predicted back in a 1981 article on how we might disaggregate the higher education market.  As mentioned in yesterday’s IHE article on the ASU/edX agreement, “The contract also creates an opportunity for ASU to award more credit than initially reported. The university will consider -- “subject to appropriate review and approval” -- awarding credit for MOOCs offered by other institutions, the contract states.”  This could be the All-Star degree we’ve been predicting. 

With the new ASU/edX agreement, we are getting much closer to a fundamental change in how higher education is created, consumed and degrees are awarded.  True, accreditors still need to weigh in on the new initiative, but still.

 

Some Good News For Students

If accreditors are on board with the new initiative and ASU begins to offer credit for MOOCs/content from other schools and/or vendors, this raises some wonderful opportunities for students, including:

  • The ability to study nearly any subject from some of the best instructors, no matter where the student or the various faculty reside, and earn a degree in the process.
  • Access to quality content from a variety of schools, and potentially other vendors, accredited by a school known for increasing access to higher education and higher-than-average retention in online courses.
  • The ability to pay only after passing a course – meaning that students can take them as many times as they want or need until they master the material.  Interestingly, this appears to move toward competency-based education, as students “take the test” when they know they’re ready. 
  • A low-cost alternative to on-campus education.  The cost for the eight freshman courses (students choose eight from a set of twelve) would cost approximately $6000, significantly less than what many colleges charge for tuition and fees. 
  • The ability to study at the student’s desired pace (this can also be a negative if students interpret ‘anytime, anywhere’ as ‘sometime, somewhere, just not now’).

 

A Brilliant Stroke For ASU (and edX)

Perhaps a true business model is emerging for MOOCs?  We never thought free was a sustainable model. This arrangement also puts ASU in a great position to be the “credit bundler” we discussed in an earlier post. The business model itself may not be that innovative, what is important is who uses the model first and, in this case, ASU gains first mover advantage and could profit handsomely from doing so.  

 

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