Recent news that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is offering an MBA in partnership with Coursera is not a surprise. Coursera has worked hard to find a business model that will generate revenues for it and its partner schools, and this opportunity has the potential to create substantially more revenues than the standard MOOC proctoring and certificate fees.The coverage of the partnership by Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education provides insights to the major terms of the partnership but leaves unanswered questions about student demand for the product, employer acceptance, and accreditation and regulatory compliance among others.
The iMBA program will be offered through Coursera’s Specializations product that focuses on course sequences that can be utilized for workplace credentials. Students have two options for earning academic credit and two that earn no credit. If a student wants to take the MOOC for free, they can. For those students who want proof of completion but no credit, an identity-verified certificate is available for $79 per course. Courses can be taken individually for credit for $1,000 plus the $79 fee with no decision required as to whether or not the student wants to complete the MBA. Lastly, a student can apply to the University of Illinois’s College of Business and if accepted, can complete the MBA.
I assume that there are no admissions standards for courses for credit versus there are standards for the traditional MBA program. If a student earns a B or higher in a for-credit course, is that good enough for entry into the MBA program? If not, why not? If there are no standards for taking a course for credit, will this way of entering the program influence the university’s MBA rankings? According to Inside Higher Ed, being admitted to the College of Business will provide students with access to the university’s content management system where “they will find case studies, exams, and office hours with faculty members.” Based on this, it sounds like students will have to apply for admission to the College of Business to take a course for credit since only quizzes are included on the Coursera platform.
The university said that because it will use the same course content and faculty as the traditional program, it will not apply for approval by its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC). That may work if the university has already received approval from the HLC to offer online degrees, otherwise approval for teaching in a new mode of instruction is usually required by the HLC. While the news states that tuition for the program will be the same for in-state as well as out-of-state students, I wonder if Illinois has been through the state authorization process since the state of Illinois does not yet appear to be a participate in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement. If not, that could influence the number of states that allow the courses to be offered for credit (vs. free).
The Chronicle article mentioned that students would not be able to access financial aid unless they were enrolled in the degree program and that FSA rules do not allow aid for prior knowledge. While the latter is true, I imagine that the non-credit courses run the risk of not being deemed interactive enough for classification as courses offered through telecommunication. It would be interesting to see if anyone else has examined that issue with MOOCs in general.
Marketing costs have always been high for institutions that provide online degrees. According to Coursera’s CEO, with 13 million users potential students will surface “more organically.” While that’s likely with the first group of students, will it be sustainable over time depending on the university’s desire to enroll additional students as well as if Coursera partners with other institutions to offer an online MBA?
Lastly, I wonder how the market will react to stacked credentials where the student has paid the $79 for an identify-verified certificate for each of three or four courses versus where the students has earned credit in each course at $1,000 each. There’s not enough information to tell what the difference would be or if there’s any difference (the content and faculty are the same according to the articles). Should employers care if the content and faculty are the same? If that’s the case, why should students pay to earn the credit for a stackable credential unless their ultimate goal is the MBA?
While this program as positioned at $20,000 doesn’t meet author Kevin Carey’s predictions in his book, The End of College, the courses that match content at $79 each come close to that, particularly given that they can be stacked and matched with a degree that will cost $20,000 if taken online, $50,000 if taken on-campus. Higher education is being broken apart, component by component, and the long-term question is will the degree stand up if the student can provide evidence of mastering the content without paying for the degree?