Look Who's Championing the Degree

"If you dig through the ancient (circa 2011) archives of everything written about the high-octane brand of massive open online courses, you actually won't find the founders of Coursera doubting the value of traditional degrees or the colleges and universities that created them (unlike some of their peers -- yes, you, Sebastian Thrun). That would have been foolhardy, since Coursera worked closely with and depended on universities to produce the content that the technology platform spread far and wide," according to Inside Higher Ed. 

"But plenty of prognosticators, futurists and journalists who should have known better disparaged higher education by trumpeting Coursera and the other MOOC providers, saying that by making course material freely available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, the platforms heralded the beginning of the end of higher education's stranglehold over credentialing and, in due time, the institutions themselves.

Coursera is linked closely enough to the deepening meme about the digital 'disruption' of traditional higher education that the company's pivot back to higher education -- underscored by today's announcement that it is more than doubling, to 10, the number of degree programs it is creating with university partners, including its first bachelor's degree -- may seem surprising.

The company has its hands in many parts of the learning landscape, working closely with companies that want to train their workers and continuing to provide individual learners with thousands of courses they can take freely (or at low cost if they want to prove they completed successfully).

But Coursera is now putting much of its energy into -- and staking much of its future on -- academic programs launched in conjunction with some of the world's leading universities, with Arizona State University, Imperial College London and the Universities of London and Michigan joining its degree-program ranks today.

The company and its campus partners believe these new credentials can take advantage of the platform's extensive reach of 31 million users to drive down the costs of recruiting students (and hence the tuitions they charge) and help the universities begin to slice their degree programs into shorter-term credentials.

'We are squarely betting on universities -- and on the continued relevance, even dominance, of the degree as the master credential,' says Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera's CEO since June.

At the same time, he says, the company and its university partners are focused on 'redesigning the degree to make it extremely compelling to learners around the world, and a formidable answer to any emerging credentials that might challenge the degree.'"

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Publication Date: 3/7/2018

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