Bitter Reality of MOOConomics

Every summer, the “Are college prices getting out of control?” debate gets a boost as colleges and universities set their tuition and fees for the upcoming academic year. Thanks in large part to Congress running the student loan interest rate debate right up until the eleventh hour, we’ve also been the beneficiary of a prolonged social media campaign – complete with statistics, graphs and charts – that has soberly reminded us both how expensive, and what a gamble, getting a college education can be today.

Toss in a pinch of questions about how much college students are really learning, add a dash of persistent high unemployment, mix generously with a presidential election cycle, and the result is a near state of panic with widespread calls for “disruptive” change to one of the largest sectors of nation’s economy.

Enter the massive open online course (MOOC) craze. Born at two of the nation’s most elite colleges, MOOCs have received an unbelievable amount of news coverage for offering the potential to solve one of the sector's most nagging problems: how to provide world-class education for practically no consumer cost. The courses provided via MITx and by a handful of Stanford professors have generated considerable publicity, though it’s the recent announcement that Coursera (another Stanford spin-off) has lined up around a dozen elite institutions that will use their platform to offer similarly styled educational offerings that really has folks thinking MOOCs may very well be the answer to our system’s perceived ills.

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