Higher Ed is Ripe for Disaggregation

The emergence of new models in higher education took an interesting turn recently when edX, one of the early inventors of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) announced a collaboration with a leader in the online college space, Arizona State University (ASU). That collaboration offers students the option of what is effectively a “try and buy”. The student can take a course for $45, and upon successful completion of the online course, and then pay to receive the credit for the course, at a rate of about $200 per credit hour- or $6,000 for a full year’s worth of credits. That credit would come with a seal of integrity, as both the identity of the student, and integrity of the test would be assured by the use of remote proctoring.  The criteria for the remote proctoring was that it needed to scale to potentially hundreds of thousands of test takers; allow students to take tests anytime and anywhere; and fit into the edX pricing model.   Based on those criteria, edX selected RPNow from Software Secure to provide the remote proctoring.

The courses would be part an initiative called the Global Freshman Academy and initially consist of 12 courses for a student to pick from.   Eight courses make up a freshman year at ASU, and the courses are designed to provide a general education.

EdX had started out two years ago like other MOOCs, by offering free courses that did not provide any credit.   They provided a form of authenticity to the successful completion of the course by offering identity verification for a small fee and allowing the student to show a certificate that would have the potential of being meaningful to current or future employers.   They found that tens of thousands of student were signing up take these courses, and that the completion rate was five percent for non-verified students, but fifty-nine percent for identity verified students. The concept had been proven, that students who had even a small amount of skin (cash) in the game, took the course seriously, studied, and the majority passed the course.    The next logical step: charge a small amount to the thousands of students that would sign up for those offerings, and provide an option to purchase the course credit.   ASU can charge less for these offerings because they get much larger volumes, and by having edX bear the brunt of marketing the offerings — and hosting the courses.

The Global Freshman Academy is just one of many strategies edX is following in pursuit of its primary goal to broaden access to education. MOOCs in general are offering excellent content for free to whomever is seeking additional knowledge, regardless of the student’s goal. Even this exciting new initiative with ASU offers students a path to free access. But now, if a student wants credit, or a way to demonstrate her “knowledge”, she can do so at a very modest price.

What has been perfectly clear for some time is that higher education is ripe for disaggregation.  The one size fits all model of charging high fees to a small number of the global population of people interested in gaining the advantages of advanced degrees is a 20th century model — in a 21st century world. ASU and its forward-thinking President, Michael Crow has been vocal on the subject for some time now.   In conjunction with Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX, they are putting their money where their mouth is.   And the world of higher education will only be the better for it.

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