The end of higher education as we know it?

Stanford, Swarthmore, and Princeton may have nothing to fear in the near term, but why should anybody pay $50,000 per annum for four years at Drexel, Willamette, Xavier, or Birmingham Southern if, for a few hundred dollars per course, they can accumulate a degree's worth of college credits by studying on line and then taking a test? Why, for that matter, pay $12–15,000 a year to second-tier state schools? Such questions inevitably follow from the American Council on Education's announcement that it has begun to validate online courses ("MOOCs"), delivered via Coursera, as deserving of degree credit, provided those taking such courses also submit to an "identity-verified" and proctored (but online) exam (see here and here). This is not really a surprise, considering that the ACE has been validating workforce-based learning in similar fashion for decades. But the online version has immense potential to grow, to reward initiative, and to save a bunch of money. All that's really needed now is an entrepreneurial college that is prepared to apply such credits toward its diplomas. And if not the whole diploma, how about half? Two years "on campus" is a lot cheaper than four. Is high school next?

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