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'They’re Teaching The Same Material With The Same Academic Rigor'

9/24/2018 3:59:07 PM

In a new special report, Inside Higher Ed focuses on online degree programs and other emerging means of delivering education to students.

The report includes portions of an interview with Professor John C. Hart, the director of Online and Professional Programs in Illinois Computer Science, and casts the department as a leader in online programs.

The full report, “On-Ramps and Off-Ramps: Alternative Credentials and Emerging Pathways Between Education and Work,” sits behind a pay wall, but

Inside Higher Ed's new report includes information about programs at Illinois CS and the Gies College of Business.
Inside Higher Ed's new report includes information about programs at Illinois CS and the Gies College of Business.
in this excerpt, Hart discusses what students can expect from the online program:


Much of the action with alternative credentials and pathways is occurring with online graduate programs. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is at the forefront of this experimentation and now offers three master’s degrees through the online platform from Coursera, the MOOC provider. The university’s master’s of computer science and business administration (the iMBA) have the largest enrollments of any graduate program at the university.

Potential students can take two open online courses on Coursera as an introduction to the degree programs, says John C. Hart, a professor of computer science at Illinois and director of online and professional programs in computer science. Those course bundles serve as an admissions funnel for capable working adults.

The three Coursera degree programs, which include elements of self-pacing for students who work full-time, are priced at $21,000 in total tuition and fees, roughly half the price of their campus-based equivalents. But faculty members teach the online version with equal rigor to the parallel campus-based version.

“They’re teaching the same material at the same level with the same academic rigor,” says Hart.


The report also devotes some reporting to the Gies College of Business’ iMBA and its financial details:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began its fully online iMBA with Coursera in 2016. The same university faculty members teach both the online and campus-based versions. But the iMBA’s total price is $22,000, with tuition of $250 per credit, compared to the more than $57,618 in tuition and fees that in-state students enrolled in the university’s residential M.B.A. program can expect to pay, and the $82,026 in tuition for out-of-state students. Applicants to the iMBA also are not required to take the GMAT or GRE.

Illinois also offers online versions of master’s degrees in computer science and accountancy on Coursera. And earlier this year, a first cohort of 76 students graduated from the iMBA program, which enrolled 1,600 students this spring. The program’s retention rate was 92 percent, according to the university. Its average student is 37 years old with 12 years of work experience.  

“They’re not going in debt,” says Ray Schroeder of the University of Illinois at Springfield, who is also founding director of the National Council for Online Education at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA).  He predicts substantial growth in MOOC-powered graduate programs because they are accessible, affordable and tend to be demand driven.

“It’s really teaching at scale, using technology,” says Schroeder. “They’ve got all the pieces.”

Experts say Coursera and edX can skim smaller percentage fees than traditional OPMs do from the online programs they run with colleges. Spruce Point Capital Management, an investment firm that has a short-selling position on 2U, used a public records request to find that Illinois pays a 40 percent tuition revenue fee to Coursera, less than the 60 percent or more OPMs historically have charged. MOOC platforms also will have a head start on short-term master’s programs if those credentials take off. So will highly selective universities, Schroeder says, both with alternative and more conventional online graduate programs.

“The large universities have the resources to capitalize on these ventures,” he says, adding that a graduate degree market shift could be hard on vulnerable public and private colleges. “They’re the ones who are really going to be hurt.”