Harvard Debuts Free Online Courses

With tuition costs soaring and jobs dwindling, there just might be a way to get a top-notch education while only paying a sliver of the market rate.

Typically, the stigmas surrounding online colleges are lukewarm at best, but with the debut of Harvard’s edX, that’s about to change.

The free program—part of a non-profit joint venture with MIT and the University of California Berkeley—debuted last week and drew 100,000 applications for web classes including computer science, epidemiology, and biostatistics, according to the Boston Globe.

Students can take as many classes as they like. The universities attached to the program insist that the grading process is rigorous and that curricula and standards are on par with on-campus courses. When students demonstrate mastery of a course, they receive a certificate.

The edX philosophy is the brainchild of MIT professor Anant Agarwal, who became disenchanted with foreign university models after making his way through the Indian baccalaureate system.

“I was one of the fortunate students who was able to enter the funnel in the traditional way, both in India and in the United States,” Agarwal told the Wall Street Journal last month. “As edX casts its net across the world, I would like to see other students in India reap the benefits of high quality education.”

Now, the edX network is thriving at the three schools. Agarwal completed a circuitry this summer that brought 20,000 applicants into the MIT edX system, representing 160 countries.

At Harvard, which, like MIT, pumped $30 million into the program, the focus is not only on providing low-cost, high-grade education, but also on revolutionizing the way the teaching system functions.

“We view this as an incredible opportunity for us to ask deeper questions about how people learn and how we as a university help people to learn,” Harvard provost Alan Garber told the Boston Globe.


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