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Coursera Launches Six New Degrees Including a Bachelors Degree

Earlier this month, Coursera held their sixth annual Partners Conference at Arizona State Universty. During this conference, Coursera announced six new degrees from five different university partners. One of these degrees came from the host ASU. What surprised me the most was that The University of London announced it will offer a B.S. in Computer Science through Coursera.

In BestCerts‘s analysis of the MOOC space in 2017, MOOC-based online degrees were one of the top trends of last year. I concluded that MOOC providers have an advantage over traditional online degree programs as their free online courses act as a highly effective marketing channel to attract millions of new learners. According to Coursera, 50% of their degree students were former Coursera learners.

As of Jan 2018, they had 1632 degree students enrolled in the four degrees that were available. Over 1000 of these students are enrolled in the University of Illinois’ iMBA, the first ever degree to be announced on Coursera. So far, Coursera has earned $9.6 million in tuition from these online degrees. It’s no wonder Coursera is investing heavily in launching more online degrees.

Below is a complete list of MOOC-based degrees that have been announced so far.

Two of the six new degrees are in Public Health, the first non-STEM degrees announced by Coursera. The University of Michigan and Imperial College of London will be offering a Masters in Public Health. Coursera also announced two Master of Computer Science, one from Arizona State University and the other from University of Illinois. The University of Michigan announced a Master of Applied Data Science, which is similar to Master of Computer Science in Data Science from the University of Illinois.

According to Coursera’s Chief Academic Strategist Deanna Raineri, students have regional preferences. Which means that having the same degree from different universities will attract students from the regions where the university’s brand is strong.  Deanna also mentioned that Coursera’s degrees will be taught by the same faculty, same curriculum, same learning outcomes, as the residential degree.

But according to Manoel Cortes Mendez, who is currently enrolled in Georgia Tech’s Online Masters of Science in Computer Science, only 4 specializations are available online — compared to 12 on-campus. So maybe the core curriculum is the same, but it would take a while to replicate the entire breadth of a residential degree (if that ever happens).

Coursera’s degrees will also include a mix of closed content and open content i.e MOOCs that are free to audit. We will have to wait and see how much of the content is open. FutureLearn for instance only offers around 1-3 two weeks long “taster courses” for each of its online degrees.

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

Its the first time that a MOOC provider has launched a Bachelor degree, The Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from University of London will cost £9,600 – £17,000, depending on the geographic location of the student.

I was surprised by this announcement because the target audience for MOOCs is a professional learner. According to the previous CEO of Coursera Rick Levin, the “lifelong career learner” is someone who might be well beyond their college years and takes these online courses with the goal of achieving professional and career growth. Levin defined the lifelong career learner as someone typically between the age of 25 to 45. Eighty-nine percent of Coursera learners are over the age of 22.

Previous attempts like ASU and edX’s Global Freshman Academy haven’t done so well.  A Bachelor’s degree also takes significantly longer to complete as compared to a Masters.

Another aspect of this degree is that even though the content will be delivered online, students will have to give exams in one of the university’s approved list of proctoring centers (PDF link). Though these centers are placed through the world, they are limited to a few major cities in each country.