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Arizona State and edX offer full freshman year of MOOCs

Students can take classes for free but must pay fees to earn credits
University Business, July 2015
Arizona State’s Global Freshman Academy begins with three online courses this coming semester.
Arizona State’s Global Freshman Academy begins with three online courses this coming semester.

Online learning, specifically MOOCs, has inspired many doomsday forecasts regarding the fate of traditional higher education—which, of course, has yet to collapse.

But the predicted death of MOOCs—due to erratic completion rates, lack of formal student support and concerns about the financial returns for institutions—hasn’t come true either.

In an effort to add quantifiable worth to the MOOC, Arizona State University is partnering with edX to offer an entire freshman curriculum online through the Global Freshman Academy, launching this fall.

Adrian Sannier, Arizona State’s chief academic technology officer, says the initiative is an extension of the university’s decade-long mission to increase student access as well as the institution’s impact on the economy. Sannier believes the global academy will be attractive to three specific groups: High school students preparing for the rigors of a college education; the nontraditional student looking to sample online education without wasting time or extra money; and the international student who wishes to experience American education before investing in it significantly.

The academy begins with three courses this coming semester. The university will introduce two courses per session (with two sessions per semester) over the next two years to reach the full 12-course catalogue.

Like with other MOOCs, students will be able to participate in the classes free of charge. But to gain credit for their efforts, a $45 fee for identity verification is required. And then with credits priced at $200 each, graduates will spend a total of about $6,000 in place of a full year’s tuition (which runs in-state students around $10,000).

Sannier says these fees fund administrative services, including transcription assistance. In lieu of academic advisors, ASU will include details in course descriptions about which classes will be helpful for particular majors.

“It is in our minds to eventually reduce tuition,” Sannier adds. “Once we are running at full volume, we believe we’ll be able to lower the cost to students.”

Arizona State will grant the credits, which will most likely be fully transferable to other higher ed institutions, according to Sannier.

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