You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Online learning provider edX this week took a big step into the online degree space by announcing plans to launch nine low-cost, large-scale, fully online master’s programs from selective institutions.

The nonprofit company, one of the early providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, will offer the degrees from seven universities: the Georgia Institute of Technology; the University of Texas at Austin; Indiana University; the University of California, San Diego; Arizona State University and two Australian universities -- the University of Queensland and Curtin University.

The master's programs in high-demand majors such as cybersecurity, data science and analytics will range in price from around $9,000 to $22,000 and offer students a significant discount over equivalent campus-based degree programs.

The launch of these degree programs follows the successful pilot by edX of a master’s degree in analytics from Georgia Tech, which started with 250 students in fall 2017 and now has more than 1,200 students. Nelson Baker, dean of professional education at Georgia Tech, said in a press release that the success of the pilot proved “clear demand for affordable, high-quality education.”

Georgia Tech’s online master's of science in analytics costs $9,900. The on-campus equivalent costs $36,000 for in-state students and $49,000 for out-of-state.

The company is launching two more degrees at $10,000 or under -- a master’s in cybersecurity from Georgia Tech and a master’s in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin.


edX Master's Degree

Online Cost (USD)


Curtin University, Australia



1.5-3 years

Georgia Institute of Technology



2-3 years

Georgia Institute of Technology



1-3 years

Indiana University

IT management


1.25-3 years

Indiana University



1.25-3 years

University of California, San Diego

Data science


1-3 years

University of Queensland, Australia

Leadership: service innovation


2 years

University of Texas at Austin

Computer science


1.5-3 years

The announcement of so many new graduate degree programs shows that edX, like fellow online learning platform Coursera, is “going all in on the online program management opportunity,” said Ryan Craig, managing director of investment company University Ventures.

“Both Coursera and edX have used MOOCs as a way to develop partnerships that they are now attempting to monetize via a standard OPM model,” said Craig. Coursera currently offers 11 online master’s programs from selective institutions, including a highly successful iMBA from the University of Illinois, which costs around $22,000.

The relative affordability of these online degrees is “reflective of what it actually costs to deliver an online degree program,” said Craig. The edX announcement “will put significant pricing pressure on institutions, who along with their OPMs, continue to price online degrees at the same level as campus programs,” he said.

Sean Gallagher, executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at Northeastern University, said that edX’s move into online degrees “is an expected evolution.”

MOOC providers such as Coursera and edX are attractive partners to universities looking to create online programs because the providers already have large numbers of learners -- typically working adults. This means that MOOC platforms have “very low student acquisition costs,” said Gallagher.

Working with a provider like edX opens up new pathways to degrees, said Gallagher. EdX offers credentials called MicroMasters that can be stacked toward a full degree. Previously, these could only be used toward in-person degrees. Now they can be applied to online degrees.

Not all of the new online master's degrees have a MicroMasters component, but most do, said Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX.

The advantage of having the MicroMasters component is that learners can decide whether to pursue a full master's degree after trying out a less expensive and time-consuming program. If a learner decides not to continue on to a master's degree, they still have the MicroMasters certificate -- "a valuable stand-alone credential, recognized by industry leaders," said Agarwal.

Master's degrees from edX "are the next step towards edX's vision of stackable degrees and credentials," said Agarwal. These nine degrees are "just the beginning" of what will hopefully be a larger list of master's offerings in in-demand areas, he said. 

"We're facing a worldwide global skills gap due to rapid changes in technology, requiring advanced knowledge in new in-demand fields. However, the investment of time and money required to gain this knowledge through a traditional on-campus master's degree is inaccessible for many," said Agarwal. "We are offering our online master's degree programs to address both of these realities."

The admission process for the online degrees will be the same as for on-campus degrees, said Agarwal. But "some requirements may be waived for applicants who successfully complete a MicroMasters program and show they can handle the work."

Universities could choose to waive requirements to take entrance exams such as the GRE, for example.

In the future, anyone who gets a certain grade in a MicroMasters program could be automatically accepted into a master's program. This model "could have a major impact on how graduate admissions works," said Gallagher.

"What better indication of degree success is there than completing part of the course?" asked Gallagher. “This could flip the admissions process.”

“It opens access,” said Gallagher. “Before there was a very high bar for acceptance. But this process opens up the admissions standards for selective institutions.”

Next Story

More from Teaching & Learning