U of Washington's Online Classes Find Big Market — If They're Free

Ann McClure's picture
Thursday, January 3, 2013

They tuned in from Russia and India, Colombia, Canada and California — in all, more than 25,000 signed up for a free online course at the University of Washington last quarter called "Information Security and Risk Management in Context."

Thousands more signed up for two other course offerings, one on computational finance and the other on scientific computing.

That the courses were popular was clear. Less clear: whether the UW can find a way to break even on the venture.

In the past year, the UW and dozens of other universities have begun offering free online courses through for-profit companies like Coursera, a fast-growing California startup, and nonprofits like the MIT-Harvard partnership edX — sometimes for the prestige, sometimes simply to reach a broader swath of students.

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