MOOC’s and shaky assumptions

Apparently, Georgia Tech will begin offering a MOOC-based Master’s in Computer Science for really cheap, that Gabriel Kahn, writing in Slate, sees as a potential game-changer:

Georgia Institute of Technology is about to take a step that could set off a broad disruption in higher education: It’s offering a new master’s degree in computer science, delivered through a series of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, for $6,600.

The school’s traditional on-campus computer science master’s degree costs about $45,000 in tuition alone for out-of-state students (the majority) and $21,000 for Georgia residents. But in a few years, Georgia Tech believes that thousands of students from all over the world will enroll in the new program.

The $6,600 master’s degree marks an attempt to realize the tantalizing promise of the MOOC movement: a great education, scaled up to the point where it can be delivered for a rock-bottom price…

Drop the price of the online degree, the logic goes, and you could have a Napster-like moment sweeping college campuses. Revenues spiral down as degree programs are forced to compete on tuition. That’s a terrifying prospect for universities, which have depended on steadily rising tuition—growing at more than twice the rate of inflation—to cover costs.

Okay, all well and good (or not, actually), but here’s the rub:

The new degree—which is a partnership with MOOC pioneer Udacityis intended to carry the same weight and prestige as the one it awards students in its regular on-campus program.  [emphasis mine]

“intended to carry the same weight and prestige”?!  Yeah, and I intend to lose 5 pounds in the next month and finish up a couple of articles to submit to PS journals.  That intention and $45,000 will get you a real Georgia Tech Master’s degree.

Also this:

John Backus, the chief executive of Atlantic Ventures, which invests in a number of higher-education companies, asks: “Why would you go to XYZ college, pay three to four times the amount, when you can get a master’s degree more cheaply and from a better school?”

Ummm, because nobody’s going to consider your on-line only degree program “a better school.”

There are still a lot of questions about whether an online program with thousands of students can measure up to a campus-based program that enrolls about 130. Chip Paucek is the founder of 2U, a firm that provides online course platforms to universities, such as Georgetown University’s Master of Nursing program. He insists that even with an online program, you can’t just add students without compromising quality. “Nearly 1,000 students receive live training each week in classes of 10–15 students,” he says, adding, “Could we reduce the cost of instruction by doubling or tripling the size of the live classes? Sure. But we are confident that doing so would undercut the learning experience.”

Are there really “a lot of questions” about this?  Do people seriously wonder if the quality of the academic expertise will be as high?  Newsflash– it won’t.

Photo of the day

How cool is this?  A view of the earth from the Cassini spacecraft out near Saturn:

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn's rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame.

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

It’s the Tea Party’s country

So, I was going through my draft posts and discovered I had written this one a couple weeks ago and never actually posted it.  Whoops!  Anyway, as long as I’ve waited, I’ll add that it makes even more sense in light of last week’s post about why the Tea party has such disproportionate influence…


Increasingly (and sadly) when it comes to policy in this country, in many ways there’s the Tea Party Republicans calling the shots in the US House and Republican primaries and then pretty much everyone else.  These Gallup results are fascinating.  First off, Americans actually view this as a very important issue (Gallup does not poll the intensity on immigration nearly enough):

How important is it to you personally to have new laws dealing with immigration, including laws governing how immigrants can come into this country, and laws dealing with immigrants already in this country? Is it extremely important, very important, somewhat important, not too important or not important at all? June-July 2013

Not bad.  Over 70%of Americans consider it important to reform our immigration laws. But here’s the real kicker:

Support for Allowing Illegal Immigrants to Have Opportunity Become U.S. Citizens, by Ideology, June-July 2013

An overwhelming majority (83%) of conservatives favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  Read that again.  But, presumably these are the the Tea Party nutjobs that comprise so many members of the House Republican caucus and that the semi-sane Republican House members are afraid will take them down in a primary challenge if they don’t toe the line on immigration.

This is truly nuts.  Much needed and quite sensible policy reform is essentially being held hostage to a small, but very vocal, group of xenophobes that has massively disproportionate influence in the Republican Party.

My Moral Monday

So, I realized I better get out to Moral Monday yesterday if I was ever going to make one of these.  Since yesterday’s themes was voting rights, I was especially motivated to go.  I persuaded my bookend (oldest and youngest children to come with me).  They really enjoyed it.  David is 13 and a committed liberal.  Sarah is 2 1/2 and we found every dog that anybody had brought out to the event for her to pet.  She thought we had come to Raleigh to find dogs to pet.  So, my stray observations.

1) Given that this was the 12th of these, really, really impressed with the size of the crowd.  Great to be able to get so many people out there week after week.

2) It’s great to share stuff like this with your kids.


3) Loved the diversity of the crowd– Black, white, young, old.  And just totally normal folks.  Not just a bunch of hippies, freaks, or anything.  Did not look all that different than the clientele you might find at a grocery store in Raleigh.  Thanks to our dog hunt, we ended up talking to a lot of different people.

4) I explained to David how I could never be a real political activist, because I’m always a political scientist first.  As a speaker was making points about the disenfranchisement of young people by Republicans, he was making your typically exaggerated case for a situations as this.  But I couldn’t help but thinking, “well but… to be precise… yes, but only if…” etc., to everything he was saying.

5) Anytime we’re in downtown Raleigh around dinner time, it means Vic’s pizza for dinner.

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