Coursera, the online learning platform, is extending its reach in traditional postsecondary education, announcing it would offer a bachelor's degree for the first time from a U.S. university.
The University of North Texas, a public research institution, will work with Coursera to offer an online bachelor of applied arts and sciences starting this fall that is tailored to the needs of students who have some college credit.
This is the latest example of an online education provider trying to broach the undergraduate education market, though other attempts have yielded mixed results.
Students can enroll in the North Texas program in one of seven concentrations, according to a press release. Those are administration, organizational supervision, social services, hospitality, media innovation, consumer behavior and information technology. Students who pursue the latter concentration can earn credit for completing a Google IT Support Professional Certificate, also offered through Coursera.
Officials at the university and with the MOOC provider touted the program as a streamlined and affordable way of attaining a bachelor's degree, particularly for nontraditional students, such as those who may have earned some college credit but no degree.
At least 36 million people in the U.S. fall into that category. And of that group, some 10% are "potential completers," meaning they've done about two years of college academic work, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
These stopped-out students indicated a free or low-cost tuition and a flexible schedule would make them more likely to return to college, a recent poll found.
Transfer students from community colleges and technical institutions and veterans or active duty military personnel are also targets for the new degree. Additionally, international students who have a three-year bachelor's degree could apply their existing college credit to the program and reach a four-year degree, which would put them on a path to a master's, the companies said in the press release.
The degree costs $330 per credit hour, and students can transfer 60 or more credits toward the 120 required for the program. The price is similar to that of online giants such as Southern New Hampshire University, where students pay up to $320 per credit hour.
This is Coursera's first attempt at an online bachelor degree at an American institution; it already offers a bachelor's in computer science at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Online undergraduate programs have piqued colleges' interest as a way to offset anticipated enrollment declines among traditional students and rising tuition costs. However, attempts to launch and grow these digital programs have largely not yielded the intended results. Though MOOCs often have a high number of sign-ups, many students do not finish their programs.
The University of Pittsburgh, however, has seen some success with its partnership with Outlier.org, a startup that offers online general education courses for just a few hundred dollars. The university agreed to give credit to students who completed two introductory courses in calculus and psychology with Outlier.
The results of this pilot — which was intentionally small, officials said — revealed students who finished the digital courses earned at least a C grade at the same rate as students taking traditional gen ed courses on campus. They have since extended the partnership.
EdX, another online provider, also launched a program earlier this month geared toward students seeking undergraduate credit, called MicroBachelors. The three-course sequences, which cost between $500 and $1,500, can be finished in six months.